Fantasy Lawsuit

Every Labor Day, I look forward to getting together with my buddies for our fantasy football draft. We have a trophy presentation for the prior year’s winner and then we get down to making our picks – and horrendously ridiculing one another for perceived lapses of judgment when it comes to our choices.

This year will be our 27th year of playing fantasy football and I’ve won our league only once. Because I have a hard time preparing for a 16-week schedule, there’s no way I could play fantasy baseball, seeing as major league teams play 162 games each year. So, if you’re into fantasy baseball, you have to be an all-in, hardcore fan.

That was pretty evident after a group of daily fantasy baseball players filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball earlier this year. The group claimed to have been harmed, and their fantasy performances suffered, because the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox were known to have been stealing signs.

Investigations by MLB revealed that during recent seasons, the Astros and Red Sox used electronic devices to steal signs from the catcher to the pitcher indicating which pitch to make. Houston’s manager, AJ Hinch, and general manager, Jeff Luhnow, lost their jobs and were suspended for one season due to their roles in the schemes, while the Red Sox were fined an undisclosed amount in 2017 for stealing signs.

Kristopher Olson filed the initial complaint in January, but was soon joined by Christopher Lopez, Warren Barber, Christopher Clifford and Erik Liptak as named plaintiffs in the suit.

Olson participated in daily fantasy baseball contests on DraftKings and claimed that MLB, the Astros and Red Sox engaged in fraudulent practices that violated consumer rights and created “corrupt and dishonest” fantasy contests. Ironically, MLB is an investor in DraftKings.

Attorneys for MLB relied on legal rulings that resulted from the “Spygate” scandal, which involved the New England Patriots videotaping opponents’ practices. In that case, the judge decided in favor of the NFL, ruling that sports fans could not claim ignorance regarding teams and players attempting to gain advantages by circumventing or violating rules.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff didn’t hold back from tearing into the Astros and Red Sox in his 32-page opinion for “shamelessly” breaking baseball’s rules and “the hearts of all true baseball fans.”

Rakoff wrote that “a sport that celebrates ‘stealing,’ even if only of a base, may not provide the perfect encouragement to scrupulous play. Nor can it be denied that an overweening desire to win may sometimes lead our heroes to employ forbidden substances on their (spit) balls, their (corked) bats, or even their (steroid-consuming) selves. But as Frank Sinatra famously said to Grace Kelly (in the 1956 movie musical High Society), ‘there are rules about such things.’”

His decision then posed the question, “[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim?” Rakoff ultimately decided, “On the allegations here made, the answer is no.” Rakoff dismissed the lawsuit, holding that the fantasy players’ claim that the Astros and Red Sox’s misconduct caused them harm was “too attenuated.”

Like all sports, MLB’s season has been delayed due to COVID-19. It will be curious to see if the plaintiffs engage in fantasy baseball when the season does resume. I wager they will.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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