The National Basketball League (NBL) is suffering from image problems. Several of the top players in the league have had repeated brushes with the law, and as a result the widespread popular perception is that the league is full of thugs. Approx-imately 75 percent of the players in the NBL are Black. Most of these players embrace hip-hop culture and wear clothing that reinforces the “gangster” image, which is perceived to contribute to the league’s negative public image.With the popularity of the NBL’s entertainment product in decline in corpo-rate America (source of sponsorship and advertising dollars) and among the White middle-class viewing audience, NBL Commissioner David Firm has decided the league needs an image facelift. He has proposed implementation of a dress code to become effective at the beginning of the next season of play. This dress code is to be enforced by the individual teams and is mandatory for all players. Punish-ment in the form of monetary fines and suspensions may be imposed for violations.The proposed dress code requires that players dress in “business casual” style at all times while on team or league business, except for specified types of occasions where other attire is appropriate (e.g., special events, basketball clinics, etc.). Additionally, it prohibits wearing headgear of any kind while a player is on the bench or in the stands during a game, during media interviews, and during other team or league events. Also forbidden are chains, pendants, or medallions worn on the outside of a player’s cloth-ing, sunglasses worn indoors, and headphones (except in the team locker room, team bus, or team plane). According to one player, “Almost one hundred percent of the guys in the league who are young and Black players wear big chains.”Several players have publicly voiced their objection to the proposed dress code. In fact, many have said it will affect mostly the Black players, is in fact targeted at Blacks, and is a racist attempt to suppress Black hip-hop style and culture. Not surprisingly, sport sociology professors have entered the dialogue, with about two-thirds of them suggesting that the dress code is indeed evidence of lingering racist attitudes. On the other hand, some players, coaches, and noted sport scholars have expressed support for the proposal. Their position is that the dress code is not tar-geted at suppressing Black cultural expression but is instead a long overdue “good business” response to the need to repair the league’s image in the eyes of the paying customers and corporate sponsors.Because the dress code affects employment conditions and the employer–employ-ee relationship, it is a mandatory topic for collective bargaining (see Chapter 9 for further discussion of this topic). That is, management cannot unilaterally impose it on the players. Instead, the players association will have to agree to accept the dress code as part of its overarching collective bargaining agreement with management, due to be renegotiated next month. study Immediately after Commissioner Firm first announced the proposed dress code one month ago, 45 players began to engage in expressive activities designed to encourage a greater level of player involvement in the players association, in an effort to forge a strong union position against agreeing to accept the dress code. Additionally, three of the “activist” players (I. M. Pacer, M. E. Sixer, and I. Warrior) filed a lawsuit against the NBL two weeks ago, claiming that the proposed dress code constitutes racial harassment. The 45 “activist” players have noticed that they are being more closely scrutinized and are receiving more disciplinary sanctions by management for violations of team and league rules than are “nonactivist” players. Among the 45 “activists,” Pacer, Sixer, and Warrior seem to be receiving the most scrutiny and sanctions.

1. Assume you are a friend of Pacer, Sixer, and Warrior, and they know you are taking a graduate sport law class. They come to you seeking your infor-mal (but hopefully well-informed) opinion (not to be construed as illegally practicing law without an attorney’s license) on whether they should with-draw their lawsuit claiming that the proposed dress code constitutes racial harassment. How would you respond and why?

2. Those same players also want your advice about whether they should file a new lawsuit claiming that the proposed dress code violates their free speech right to express themselves and their cultural values through their clothing style choices.

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3. They also ask your advice about bringing an unfair labor practice claim under the National Labor Relations Act.

4. They also want to know what you would advise about bringing a claim alleging employer retaliation under Title VII.

5. Commissioner Firm has decided to hold a press conference to address the accusations of racism, which have been receiving a huge amount of play in the media. He has formed a committee of NBL staff members to assist him in preparing his remarks. You are a member of that committee. What advice would you give the commissioner?

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