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Week In Review

By Chris Helsel

Federal Judge Approves Settlement in National Collegiate Athletic Association Video Game Suit

Judge Claudia Wilken of the Northern District of California approved a $60 million settlement this week in the class action lawsuit brought by former college athletes against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and video game maker Electronic Arts (EA). The collegiate football and basketball players, led by former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller and West Virginia running back Shawne Alston, alleged that their names and likenesses had been illegally used in video games for many years without compensation.

Until they were discontinued in 2013, the college sports video games - which were licensed by the NCAA - featured avatars of "fictional" players, whose physical appearance, jersey numbers, playing styles and even alleged hometowns bore a striking resemblance to the schools' contemporary star players. Of course, as amateur athletes subject to strict NCAA rules prohibiting monetary compensation, none of the student-athletes were compensated at the time for their appearances in the highly profitable video games.

Initially, EA and the NCAA argued that the on-screen performers did not depict the likenesses of real players, and that the games never used the actual names of current athletes. That claim took a major hit when it was revealed that the 2009 edition of the "NCAA Football" game featured a series of plays in a formation called "Shotgun Twin QB Tebow." At the time of the game's release, the reigning national champion Florida Gators featured a star quarterback who was then entering his senior season. His name? Tim Tebow.

EA settled with the athletes in September of 2013, but the NCAA vowed to fight on. At the time, NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy proclaimed, "We're prepared to take this all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to. We are not prepared to compromise on the case."

That stance softened considerably in the months that followed, as the NCAA announced in June 2014 that it would pay $20 million to former football and basketball players. That number grew to $60 million as it expanded to include other similar suits, and Judge Wilken rubber-stamped the final agreement this week. The settlement covers collegiate basketball and football players whose teams appeared in NCAA video games from 2003 through 2014, and allows current players to collect compensation without affecting their amateur eligibilities.

Each student-athlete's payout has a maximum value of $7,026, and those eligible have until July 31st to claim their shares.

Plaintiffs' attorney Steve Berman celebrated the ruling this week. "This landmark decision marks the first time student-athletes will be paid for the likeness or image and stands as a huge victory in the ongoing fight for student-athletes' rights," he said.


Senate Subcommittee Examines U.S. Soccer in Wake of FIFA Scandal

A U.S. Senate subcommittee convened a hearing last week to examine what the United States Soccer Federation knew - or should have known - about the widespread corruption within the sport's world governing body, FIFA.

In addition to inquiring into U.S. Soccer officials' knowledge of the corruption, the subcommittee also repeatedly asked about why the Federation's president, Sunil Gulati, had declined to participate. Mr. Gulati is a member of the influential FIFA Executive Committee.

Before the Senate, in lieu of Mr. Gulati sat U.S. Soccer's Chief Executive and Secretary General, Daniel Flynn. Mr. Flynn, who was not under oath, sought to distance the Federation from FIFA and paint the U.S. contingent as a dissenting member that had lobbied for greater transparency within the global governing body. As evidence that the Federation did not support the current regime, he pointed out that the U.S. voted against embattled (and soon-to-be-ousted) FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the most recent election held earlier this year.

Mr. Flynn repeatedly told the subcommittee that he, rather than Mr. Gulati, had been sent to testify because he had greater familiarity with U.S. Soccer's daily operations than did the Federation's top official. Critics were quick to point out, however, that in addition to Mr. Gulati's position on the FIFA Executive Committee, he also has close ties to several of the officials indicted in May.

It should be noted, however, that Mr. Gulati was one of the loudest voices calling for the public release of FIFA Ethics Committee Chairman and former U.S. Attorney Michael's Garcia's report into allegations of corruption surrounding Russia and Qatar's bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Unsurprisingly, FIFA declined to release the Garcia report, but rather issued a highly-disputed "summary" - so disputed, in fact, that Mr. Garcia promptly resigned his post in protest.

While Mr. Flynn insisted that he "knew nothing about any corruption," he did concede that he had experienced "a level of discomfort" with FIFA's method of transacting business, despite having no "cold facts" on which to base this discomfort. The assembled senators were not satisfied with this position, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) declaring, "There had to be either willful ignorance or blatant incompetence." Sen. Blumenthal also called on U.S. Soccer to conduct an internal inquiry in addition to complying with the ongoing Justice Department, FBI and IRS investigations.

The Connecticut Senator also derided FIFA sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Visa, calling the corporations "enablers" for continuing to support the organization in the face of such seemingly obvious corruption.

Regarding FIFA as a whole, Sen. Blumenthal concluded that soccer's global governing body was akin to a "Mafia-style crime syndicate." He added, "My only hesitation in using that term is that it is almost an insult to the Mafia, because the Mafia would never have been so blatant."


Street Artist Who Created Barack Obama's "Hope" Poster Surrenders to Authorities

Street artist Shepard Fairey, who created President Obama's iconic "Hope" poster, surrendered to Detroit authorities last week on charges that he defaced several properties in the city. Mr. Fairey is charged with two counts of malicious destruction of property, each of which is punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.

In addition to the 2008 "Hope" image, Mr. Fairey also created the "Obey" street-art sticker campaign in 1989. It was that image, which features legendary professional wrestler Andre the Giant, that he reportedly plastered on nine Detroit buildings - two of which are city-owned - earlier this year.

After Detroit police issued a felony warrant for his arrest, Mr. Fairey was apparently apprehended in a Los Angeles airport last week. Authorities declined to extradite him, and he returned to Detroit on his own accord, where he turned himself in.


Avant Garde Filmmaker Sent to Prison For Bank Robbery "Performance"

Performance artist Joe Gibbons was sentenced to one year in prison after pleading guilty to third degree felony robbery in Manhattan Supreme Court last week. In January, Mr. Gibbons strolled into a Chinatown bank and handed the teller a note demanding cash and "NO DYE PACKS / NO GPS." The teller complied with the cash demand, but added an exploding dye pack to that burst as he made his getaway. Mr. Gibbons made off with a total of $1,002. Soon after the arrest, the culprit was arrested in a nearby hotel.

The 61-year-old Mr. Gibbons, who previously taught art at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and whose work is featured at the Museum of Modern Art, claimed that the robbery was all part of an art performance. In fact, he filmed the entire episode with a pocket-size camera.

While police and the Manhattan court were clearly not persuaded by Mr. Gibbons' "art performance" claims, many in the art world have come to his defense. A Brooklyn electronic art venue staged a benefit for the artist in February, and an IndieGogo kickstarter campaign raised nearly $9,000 to support his cause. According to New York University professor of performance studies Ann Pellegrini, the January bank robbery was a classic example of "performance becoming performative," an act that questions "the relationship between actor, audience and enactment." According to Ms. Pellegrini, during the robbery the bank teller and police performed their professional roles "without knowing that they were at the same time performing in Gibbons's art performance of a bank robbery."

Authorities also suspect that the avant garde artist was involved in a robbery at a Providence, R.I. bank last year. During that incident, a middle-aged man demanded $3,000 in cash as a donation for his church. While his attorney claims he has not been charged in that case, Mr. Gibbons did admit to his involvement during a jailhouse interview with the New York Post earlier this year.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 21, 2015 1:00 PM.

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