Prof. Michael McCann
Associate Professor of Law, Vermont Law School
Friday, January 15, 2010; 5:00 PM
Suspended Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas pleaded guilty to a felony firearms charge, though he is expected to serve little, if any, jail time. Sports law expert Michael McCann was online Friday, January 15 to take your questions about future legal implications, Arenas' contract status and what's next for the guard and the team.
A transcript follows.
McCann is a professor at Vermont Law School and the legal analyst for Sports Illustrated.
Brookeville, Md.: My understanding is that this plea is based on the District's gun laws and that if he'd done the same thing in Maryland (for instance) it wouldn't be a crime at all. If that's true, why would this "crime" warrant jail time at all, especially given that Arenas turned himself in and pleaded guilty? If he'd exercised his 5th amendment rights against self-incrimination there probably wouldn't have been any case against him. Isn't taking responsibility for his actions more admirable than denying them?
Michael McCann: It's a good point, and it goes to fact that gun laws vary considerably by jurisdiction. Look at what happened to Plaxico Burress -- would he be sentenced to prison if he had been in New Jersey with his gun instead of New York? Probably not.
Chantilly, Va.: I certainly hope he gets jail time and is not let off with probabtion, community service time, a fine and anything else light. He broke the law, lied about it, made fun of what he did and much more. His other past actions (prior gun problem, and bullying pranks and all) need to be factored in by the judge before sentencing.
Michael McCann: I understand your sentiment. Clearly, Arenas could have handled the situation differently and in a way that showed more genuine contrition. But from Arenas's perspective for purposes of sentencing, his lawyer will focus on the fact that Arenas takes full responsibility for his actions (as opposed to using tax dollars on a long, drawn-out trial) and that his mistake, while careless, was not intentional.
Germantown, Md.: Can the Wizards void his contract?
Michael McCann: That's the million dollar -- or maybe $111 million dollar -- question. The long and short of it is that Clause 16 of the Uniform Player Contract empowers teams to void contracts when the player "at any time, fails, refuses, or neglects to conform his personal conduct to standards of good citizenship, good moral character (defined here to mean not engaging in acts of moral turpitude, whether or not such acts would constitute a crime), and good sportsmanship ..." Even though the language would seem to include Arena's actions, we haven't seen teams use Clause 16, or at least not successfully.
Two quick examples: the Warriors tried to use it with Latrell Sprewell after he choked his coach. An arbitrator ultimately said that behavior, while terrible, didn't rise to the necessary level for voiding his contract.
The other example was Vin Baker and the Celtics. The Celtics eventually convinced him to agree to a buyout where he received about half of what he was owed under his contract. Maybe we will see that with Arenas and the Wizards.
Washington, D.C.: Its very interesting that the other players gun has just vanished - like it never existed - what's his status with the team and the authorities.
Michael McCann: Javaris Crittenton remains under investigation by law enforcement authorities. I don't believe the league or Wizards have formally taken action against him--yet. They are likely waiting to see what happens with the police investigation.
Anonymous: 2nd Amendment: The -- Right -- to bear arms shall not be abridged! Of course he left the weapon in his locker and was not bearing those arms. Is this why he is being apprehended?
Michael McCann: If he had kept the guns in his house, he wouldn't have had this problem. The 2nd Amendment has been a source of litigation in D.C. recently because of the D.C. v. Heller decision, but that concerned guns in the home. Not the Verizon Center.
F Street: I've heard plenty of speculation, but are the terms for termination of Arenas' contract public knowledge? Do we know what it says about a morals clause or consequences for being convicted of a felony?
Michael McCann: Good question. Here's the deal: the uniform player contract can only be altered in limited instances (such as what kinds of activities players can engage in during the off-season, a topic that has gotten some players in trouble, like Monta Ellis). According to the collective bargaining agreement, Clause 16--the morals clause--can't be altered. So it should be in Arenas's contract.
Annandale, Va.: What do you believe the sentence will be?
Michael McCann: I'm hesitant to make a firm prediction, because it's to know how Judge Morin will take into account all of the relevant factors. I would be surprised if the sentence exceeded the prosecutors' recommendation of six months, however. I don't think this is like Michael Vick, whom prosecutors' recommended be sentenced to 12 to 18 months in prison, but received a 24 month sentence from Judge Henry Hudson.
Potomac, Md.: Yes, Gilbert broke the law and should receive a punishment that fits the crime ... but, not jail time. He's a prankster, the guns weren't loaded, he wasn't intending to shoot anyone. He's basically a really good guy, from what I know of him.
Michael McCann: He might be a good guy, he is certainly charismatic and likable, and it seems that he made a careless mistake with no harm intended. No disagreement on those points. I'd also point out that his charitable activities and other good deeds are worthy of recognition.
All of that said, he still broke the law and there are consequences for doing so.
Cheverly, Maryland: Paint a scenario where Gil comes back to D.C. For the life of me I can't seem to create one.
Michael McCann: If the Wizards can't terminate his contract -- and I think it would be a tough hurdle -- will there be a trade market for him, given his controversy and contract? I can't see the Wizards cutting him and paying him what he's owed (and taking the hit against the salary cap, too). I think it is possible he returns to the Wizards, even if neither Arenas nor the Wizards want him back.
Anonymous: I cannot see Arenas serving a day in jail other than the court system using him as an example. Would that be justified in any way?
Michael McCann: I think if he receives no time, some will say that he is a beneficiary of preferential treatment because of his celebrity and wealth. It's possible, though, he could spend his sentence in a halfway house, which while not like being home, is a lot better than jail.
Chantilly, Va.: The smart thing for Gil to do would have been to call his local Police Department and have them remove the guns from his house. None of the rest would have happened.
Michael McCann: I see your point, but he had a legal right to have the guns in his home, and if he hadn't decided to show them in the Wizards locker room, he wouldn't be in trouble.
Clarksburg, Md.: When do you think David Stern will decide what the "indefinite suspension" means? Meaning do you have any idea when he might change it to a certain amount of time and if so, how long? I know you can only speculate.
Michael McCann: I think he'll wait until the sentencing is determined (Arenas is scheduled to be sentenced on March 26). I think the odds are very much against Arenas returning this season, even if the sentence he receives is extremely light. To me, the question is whether the suspension will continue into the 2010-11 season. Stern will likely provide Arenas an opportunity to meet with him in private (similar to that provided by NFL commissioner Roger Godell to Michael Vick) and that meeting would have a major impact on when Arenas returns.
Oakland, Calif.: This problem began with high-dollar gambling. The nba seems to have had an intentional blind eye toward players gambling amongst themselves. Such gambling is also a violation of federal laws, most certainly on team interstate flights, yes? Will the NBA now hold teams financially and legally accountable for permitting ANY gambling between team players and employees?
Michael McCann: I think we're going to see the topic of player gambling addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement, if not sooner. If reports are true that players gamble thousands of dollars on card games and video games, I think the NBA--particularly after its experience with disgraced referee Tim Donaghy fixing games--will seek to prevent or at least limit player gambling. To do so would require consent by the Players' Association, and they would likely object or expect something significant in return.
SE, Washington, D.C.: Given that these pro athlets are marked daily as rich millionaires, why would they not carry guns?
I agree Arenas was stupid, but jail time? I live in D.C., I'm not afraid of Arenas having a gun. I think too many people are mixing jealousy of him making $111 million with criminality. ...
Michael McCann: You're right that pro athletes may be targets, but might a bodyguard make more sense than carrying guns? Also, when has a gun been used by a pro athlete to defend himself while out in public?
Anonymous: I'm no medical expert but Gil maybe showing sign of "borderline personality disorder". Can the judge as part of the sentencing order mental health treatment?
Michael McCann: I think if Arenas were going to use a personality disorder defense, or something akin to that, he would not have plead guilty. By pleading guilty, he takes responsibility for his actions and Judge Morin will decide the consequences.
Anonymous: how much ground do NBA players have left to stand on with the next CBA?
Meaning, they are losing the public relations war time after time and never seem to get it. be it weed or guns.
Michael McCann: I'm sure the Players' Association, like the league, is concerned whenever players who are attracting attention for the league are committing crimes or doing something wrong. That may be one of the reasons why the Players' Association agreed to the NBA Dress Code, which some players clearly opposed: it was seen as a way of making players more appealing to the general NBA audience.
So why haven't teams been able to use the morals clause successfully?:
Michael McCann: My sense is that teams don't believe it's worth the legal expense, time, and attention to wage a battle with a player over a voided contract. The legal expenses could be considerable and the uncertainty may make it difficult for teams to make trades or sign players (since they won't know their payroll for sure until the matter with the voided player contract is resolved, which could take months). That's why I think a buyout is a more likely option with the Wizards and Arenas (to the extent anything happens to Arenas's contract). The Wizards would get some salary cap relief and Arenas would get some money, and he could then sign with another team, which he might want to do anyway.
Oakland, Calif.: Arenas had four guns in the workplace. Reportedly, he feels "let down" by Wizards' management for not backing him up in his troubles. How can Billy Hunter support him with a straight face on the day that David Stern brings down the hammer on Arenas' head?
Michael McCann: Billy Hunter could reason that he's not just representing Arenas; he's also representing the interests of other players and their relationship with teams. More specifically, if Arenas's contract can be voided in this circumstance, what other circumstance would empower teams to void player contracts? Once there is precedent for teams successfully voiding contracts, other teams could pursue the same, and that could jeopardize the guaranteed nature of NBA contracts. You might argue that would be a good thing for a number of reasons, but from the Players' Association perspective, it would clearly be a major concession -- NBA player contracts could become more like NFL player contracts.
Washington, D.C.: Hello Mr. McCann, According to the State Department firearms violations are an example of offenses that are NOT moral turpitude. Is DC law different? Or which law really applies here?
If a firearm violation is not moral turpitude, what possible reason would the NBA have to void Gil's contract? Lying about Crittendon? Please, if this was LeBron ... I'm not saying, I'm just saying ...
Michael McCann: Hi, this is the last question I can answer, I really appreciate all of your questions and your interest in my responses.
The definition of moral turpitude for purposes of Clause 16 of the uniform player contract is not specified in the uniform player contract or in the collective bargaining agreement. It is purposefully vague, with the idea (from the league's perspective) that it could cover a wide range of misbehavior, not only criminal but actions that society considers to be wrong in a moral sense. The challenge for the Wizards will be the lack of precedent on the use of Clause 16. It didn't work with Latrell Sprewell choking his coach; I'm not sure it will work for Gilbert Arenas possessing unloaded guns in the locker room.
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