Memorandum from Student-Athletes to Schools: My Social Media Posts Regarding My Coaches or My Causes Are Protected Speech?How the NLRB Is Restructuring Rights of Student-Athletes in Private Institutions

Author:Roger M. Groves
Position:Roger M. Groves is a tenured full professor at Florida Coastal School, former equity partner at Howard & Howard Attorneys, PC, and former tax judge.
Pages:69-144
 
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Memorandum from Student-Athletes to Schools: My
Social Media Posts Regarding My Coaches or My
Causes Are Protected SpeechHow the NLRB Is
Restructuring Rights of Student-Athletes in Private
Institutions
Roger M. Groves*
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction .................................................................................... 71
I. The State of the NLRB Law on Student-Athlete Regulation ......... 77
A. Preliminary Decision Granting Employee Status
to Student-Athletes .................................................................. 79
B. Full Board Decision: The Jurisdictional Wink and Nod .......... 79
II. The General Counsel Memorandum .............................................. 83
A. Background and the Return to Established Precedent ............. 83
B. Scope and Breadth ................................................................... 84
C. Substantive Guidance on Treatment of Student-Athletes as
Employees Under the Act ........................................................ 85
1. Foundational Cases ........................................................... 86
2. Rejection of the Educational Exclusion ............................ 89
3. Finding the Relationship More Economic than
Educational ........................................................................ 90
D. Application of Precedent to Student-Athletes ......................... 91
III. GCM Rationale for why Guidance on Student-Athlete Status Is
Authorized Despite Prior Board Denial of Jurisdiction in
Northwestern University ................................................................ 92
A. The GCM Policy Rebuttal ....................................................... 92
B. Changed Circumstances ........................................................... 93
1. Multi-School Context. ....................................................... 93
2. Distinction Between a Single Representation Case and
Unfair Labor Practices ...................................................... 95
3. Erosion of NCAA Dominance .......................................... 97
4. Analogous Legal Principles from Antitrust Law ............ 100
IV. What We Can Learn from a Student Handbook: Section 7
Rights for Student-Athletes .......................................................... 102
A. Social Media Policy ............................................................... 103
70 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 78
1. “Inappropriate” and “Embarrassing”—Overbroad
Language with a Chilling Effect on Protected
Section 7 Activity ............................................................ 105
2. “Family” and “Team” Protection
Inadequate Purpose ..................................................... 106
B. Corroboration from NLRB Case Law ................................... 106
1. Appropriate Tests for Section 7 Determinations ............. 107
2. Application of the Multi-Test Standard .......................... 107
3. Narrowly Tailored Curative Provisions .......................... 110
4. Inadequacy of Image and Reputation Rationale .............. 111
5. Inadequacy of Monitoring Functions .............................. 112
6. Safe Haven Provisions Prohibiting Illegal Activity ........ 113
C. The Sports Medicine and Player Communications
Rule: The Link Between Injury Complaints and
Section 7 Activity .................................................................. 114
D. Student-Athlete Rights and ResponsibilitiesDispute
Resolution Procedure ............................................................. 118
E. Athletic CommunicationsMedia Relations ........................ 119
V. Social Protests as Protected Section 7 Activity ............................ 121
VI. Modeling Best Practices ............................................................... 127
A. The Horrors of Ambiguity ..................................................... 128
B. Mixed Messages and Potential for Predominant Use Tests ... 129
C. Severability ............................................................................ 132
D. Media Freedom for Student-Athletes .................................... 132
E. Policy Considerations and Institutional Strategies to
Overcome Them .................................................................... 134
F. Analytical Construct for Drafting Provisions:
Incorporating Competing Interests from Multiple
Legal Subject Areas ............................................................... 136
1. Multiple Legal Subject Sources for Protected Rights
and Liabilities .................................................................. 137
2. Student-Athlete Publicity Rights ..................................... 138
3. Antitrust Limitations on the NCAA and Member
Institutions ....................................................................... 139
VII. Application Beyond Student-Athletes .......................................... 140
Conclusion .................................................................................... 143
2017] MEMORANDUM FROM STUDENT-ATHLETES TO SCHOOLS 71
INTRODUCTION
It is possible for university coaches, staff, and administration to have done
nothing wrong, even in light of an appearance of impropriety or allegations from
student-athletes. It also is possible for university personnel to err, causing
grievances by student-athletes to be valid. A university may have harbored
transgressions that, once discovered, inspire student-athletes to band together to
assert their common grievances. There are actual and rumored fake classes for
student-athletes, child endangerment or abuse scandals occurring in university
children’s programs, and alleged prostitution schemes under the guise of
athletic recruitment.1 In all of those circumstances there is smokeand
sometimes fire.
Copyright 2017, by ROGER M. GROVES.
* Roger M. Groves is a tenured full professor at Florida Coastal School,
former equity partner at Howard & Howard Attorneys, PC, and former tax judge.
The author extends emphatic appreciation to stellar law students Phillip
Bazemore, Roxanne Jackson, and Gwendolyn Belanger for their research
assistance for this Article.
1. The Natio nal Collegiat e Athletic Association (“NCAA”) investigated
alleged fake classes taken by scholarship football and basketball players at the
University of North Carolina. See B. David Ridpath, North Carolina Releases
NCAA’s Third, Yes Third, Notice of Allegations In Academic Fra ud Case, FORBES
SPORT S MONEY (De c. 2 2, 2016, 4:18 PM ), https: //www. forbes. com/si tes
/bdavidridpath/20 16/12/22/north-carolina-rel eases-ncaas-third-yes-third-not ice-
of-allegations-in-academic -fraud-case/#6479a6e2d248 [https://perma.cc/87KU-
SAZV]. The NC AA severely sanctioned Pennsylvani a State University for a
child-abuse scandal, which involved former football coach Jerry Sandusk y, and
for the fail ures of administ rators includi ng Gr aham Spanie r, t he f ormer
President of the universityto report the child abuse to the proper authorities.
See Penn State Sanctions, NATL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSN (July 23, 2012,
12:00 AM), http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/news/penn-state-
sanctions [https:/ /perma.cc/QG69 -HCAH]. B oth Sandu sky and Spanier were
convicted for committing child endangerment crimes. See Sara Ganim & Evan
Simko-Bednarski, F ormer Pe nn State P resident Spanier convicted in Sandusky
cas e, CNN (Mar. 24, 2017, 11:23 PM), http://www. cnn.com/20 17/03/24 /us
/former- penn-state-pres ident-convicted/ [https:/ /perma.cc/797U -YFWG]. The
NCAA’s Committee on Infractions also has imposed severe penalties against the
University of Louisville for providing escort servicesincluding prostitutesto
basketball recruits. Ma rc Tracy, N.C.A.A. Places Louisville on Pr obation a nd
Suspends Pitino, N.Y. TIMES (June 15, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06
/15/sports/ ncaabasketball/louisvill e-probation-rick- pitino-suspended-nca a.html
[https://perma.cc/T5R4-65BQ]. Louisville has appealed those findings. Associated
Press, Louisville Appeals 'Draconian' NCAA P enalties in Escort Case, SPORTS

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