As anyone with a news alert on their smartphone knows by now, embattled slugger Alex Rodriguez has decided not to go quietly into the good night of his 162-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
A-Rod, who was implicated in the Biogenesis scandal, announced on Tuesday he plans to challenge the suspension, which was handed down by an arbiter this weekend, in federal court.
That, say most legal minds, is unlikely. Under MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union, arbitration is the final solution and according to most legal experts courts are largely unwilling to second-guess an arbiter.
This is newsworthy in golf circles because the ongoing legal bout between Vijay Singh and the PGA Tour strikes a similar cord, with one key distinction.
Singh sued the Tour last year following his run-in with the circuit’s anti-doping program when he admitted to using the Ultimate Spray – which contains IGF-1, a substance that is banned by the Tour and the World Anti-Doping Agency – in a Sports Illustrated article.
Singh was suspended for violating the policy, appealed the ruling and the two sides prepared for an arbitration hearing, which like MLB is the prescribed finish line in a doping case. Before the hearing took place, however, WADA modified its decision regarding the Ultimate Spray, claiming the use of the spray did not constitute a violation in the absence of a positive test (Singh has never failed a drug test), and the Tour dropped the suspension.
Where Singh and A-Rod’s paths intersect is the current legal crossroads and the similarities between MLB’s collective bargaining agreement and the Tour’s membership requirements.
On June 12, the Tour filed a motion to dismiss Singh’s lawsuit in New York Supreme Court based largely on Singh’s 2013 membership renewal form that reads, “the results management provisions of the program shall provide the sole and exclusive method for resolving any dispute related to drug testing.”
In fact, in the circuit’s motion to dismiss the membership agreement was the proverbial tip of the spear for the Tour’s legal team. “As an initial matter,” the motion reads, “by virtue of the Tour membership agreement signed by Singh and every other member of the Tour, Singh has agreed that his sole and exclusive remedy for any discipline imposed under the program is an arbitration proceeding to overturn that discipline. ... The Tour has already granted Singh that complete relief.”
While most legal experts agree A-Rod’s suit is doomed to fail because of a concept known as “deferential judicial review,” Singh’s case and the Tour’s effort to have it dismissed – a motion that is still pending before the court – stands a better chance of going the distance because his case was never brought before an arbitrator.
Singh’s arbitration hearing was scheduled for May 7. On April 30, the Tour, after being informed of WADA’s adjusted view on the Ultimate Spray, dropped its case against the Fijian.
What is worth noting, however, is Singh’s legal challenge would have appeared just as bleak as A-Rod’s had the arbitration hearing taken place. According to various legal sources, Singh’s membership agreement – which is signed each year by every player – would have been as binding as MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, despite the absence of a union in golf.
This is compelling because a collective bargaining agreement is negotiated terms, whereas a membership agreement is not open to periodic review by, say the four player directors on the Tour’s policy board, and yet is just as legally binding.
There are those in Tour circles who have scoffed at Singh’s lawsuit, pointing out that while the 50-year-old challenges the circuit in what is becoming a costly and potentially embarrassing litigation, he continues to ply his trade on both the PGA and Champions tours.
As rumors of enormous settlement offers swirl, some contend Singh is intent on biting the hand that feeds him. But the episode has brought into focus the shortcomings of the circuit’s rules and regulations.
If a membership form, and by extension the 162-page player handbook, is viewed, at least legally, in the same light as a collective bargaining agreement, it may be time for the players to start paying more attention to the small print.