“Beds is considering a career in virtual reality”

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

I think I’ve found my calling. This will come as good news to those of you who have waited so long for me to find it. You were pretty much convinced it wasn’t appellate justice or columnist, but you were hard-pressed to figure out what it might be.

So was I. Lord knows, I’ve looked everywhere.

They’ve had me judge criminal cases, civil cases, superior court, juvenile court, appellate court, dog shows, flower shows, chili cookoffs, the National Hockey League . . . .(1) The idea was to have me judge stuff until we found something I could handle.

We were still looking until last week, when my wife handed me a copy of Time Magazine and there it was, smiling up at me from page 43. Something I could handle: Fantasy Sports Judge.

I beg your pardon? Of course that’s a real job. And a danged important one if you ask me.

Fantasy sports judging is the wave of the future, and I’m gonna jump on it and ride until I reach the shore or fall off my board, break my collarbone, and spend the rest of the summer the laughingstock of Hermosa Beach.(2)

According to both Newsweek and BusinessWeek, fantasy sports is a three-billion dollar industry in this country. I’ll stop while you re-read that sentence and try to catch your breath.

In fact, this might be a good time to take a break and walk around the block. After all, it’s not every day you encounter a sentence that tells you the culture to which you belong has reached a new nadir. If you thought we made a u-turn at Smokey and the Bandit and were headed back toward civilization, this has to be crushing news for you. A little fresh air might help you deal with it.(3)

A three billion dollar industry (this is an admitted approximation; it grows 7-10% a year and it’s hard to keep up with the numbers) with somewhere between 15 and 25 million participants.(4) Baseball, hockey, football(5), basketball, golf . . . hell, for all I know there’s fantasy badminton and backgammon. You talk about addictive substances, fantasy sports is right up there with cigarettes, alcohol and baked goods.

I personally manage two baseball teams and a hockey team every year. That means the sun never sets on my need to know who got a hit in the Pittsburgh-Houston game and how many assists the Blackhawks got against the Leafs, games I would otherwise have no interest in.

Don’t look at me like that. Justice Fybel has a baseball team and I know of at least two other judges and two of the best lawyers in this county who play. And we don’t even play for money; we’re just in it for the competition.

The mayors of eleven major United States cities (including San Francisco, Sacramento, and Oakland) are, as I write this, adjusting their rosters for their big Yahoo fantasy football competition.(6) Soon they too will be squinting from having to read the agate nanotype in which box scores are printed.

I don’t know how to break this to you, folks, but while you’ve been spending your off hours listening to Copeland and Ives and Cage, re-reading the Durants, and cultivating your cymbidia, much of the male – and a statistically significant portion of the female – populus has been pouring its time down the sink of fantasy sports.(7)

You wanna know how big it’s gotten? Yahoo and the National Football League Players’ Association spent part of their summer vacation sparring in U.S. District Court over whether Yahoo was going to have to pay for NFL stats for its fantasy leagues. Two years ago the 8th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that a fantasy sports company did not have to pay Major League Baseball for using its players’ names and statistics in its fantasy games.

If you are not a government lawyer – if you have the luxury of choosing your clients – you know this indicates there’s big money involved. I mean, you’re not going to choke down your pride, put on your best big-boy suit, stroll into a federal circuit court and utter the sentence, “I represent a producer of fantasy sports games,” unless there’s some serious green on the table.(8)

And I aim to clear that table.(9)

Turns out there is an outfit called SportsJudge.com, started five years ago by a Rutgers law professor and erstwhile Skadden Arps associate, that resolves fantasy sports disputes. For a fee.

You think somebody violated your league salary cap or made an illegal waiver claim or made a trade after the trading deadline? Take it to SportsJudge.com. You think there’s been collusion in your league because Joe Shlabotnick just traded three all-stars from his cellar-dwelling team to his cousin Tony Shlabotnick’s contender in exchange for the Minnesota Twins’ bat boy? Take it to SportsJudge.com.

But just as our judicial system has its alternative dispute doppelganger, Sportsjudge.com will soon have competition. Me.

Hey, not only am I a fantasy sports veteran, I’m a judging veteran, with 25 years’ experience, and the NHL on my resume. This is perfect for me; I’ll be great at it.(10)

I haven’t yet decided on a name for my new enterprise. I’m going back and forth between JAMSMUS (Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services for Made Up Stuff)(11) and ADRARD (Alternative Dispute Resolution for Alternative Reality Disputes). My choice of a name has been delayed by the need to do a little research on unfair competition law, but I’m almost there.

And this is just the beginning. There are all kinds of computer-simulated virtual worlds(12), whose players, having created their own worlds, now prefer virtual reality to life. Those folks seem to be tripping over each other to spend real money on made-up furniture for their made-up homes in their virtual reality worlds. And when they start slipping on the made up floors of the made up furniture stores and spraining their avatar lumbars, they’re gonna wanta sue somebody, right?

And when they do, and when they find long lines waiting at the virtual courthouse doors, they’re gonna come to JAMSMUS or ADRARD or whatever I end up naming this thing.

And when that happens? Easy street, Baby.

No more lugging briefs home every night, no more petitions for rehearing all weekend, no more ruling in favor of whichever side’s brief the cat falls asleep on . . . oops, did I actually say that out loud?

Better get back to that unfair competition law research. Me and the cat may need work sooner than I’d planned.

(1) I was a National Hockey League goal judge for 15 years. Worked NHL games from Anaheim to Chicago to Vancouver to . . . well, to London, England, where the Ducks and Kings played the season openers in 2007. Great fun, but I would have had to work 2,000 games a year to match my DCA salary.
(2) My writing instructor always said metaphors are better if they are based on true life experience, but I find that mine often take turns I didn’t anticipate.
(3) Just stay away from rooftops and bridges. And leave your gun, your belt, and your shoestrings behind.
(4) I’m usually skeptical of any statistics that involve something people are liable to do under an assumed name. Especially if they’re liable to do it several times and only report once. After all, if you tried to gauge how many people eat chocolate chip cookie dough right out of the package, my own consumption would lead you to overestimate by a couple of hundred. But I keep finding numbers like this everywhere I look. Lord have mercy.
(5) Football is the big dog in the kennel. Fantasy football generates a fanaticism that makes you grateful there is no reason for them to resort to improvised explosive devices.
(6) San Francisco inexplicably took Peyton Manning when it could have had any of the 49er quarterback candidates.
(7) My wife calls it baseball porn.
(8) “I represent a serial rapist”? Maybe. “I represent a polluter of our nation’s waterways”? Maybe. “I represent a producer of fantasy sports games”? Show me the money.
(9) That whirring sound you hear is my mother, who never got me to clear a table in her entire life, spinning in her grave. (10) Yeah, I know it sounds like a weak argument, but there were those who said my pitch for the Court of Appeal gig wasn’t a whole lot better, and here I am. Say what you will about me, I can sell.
(11) Pronounced “Jams-am-us.”
(12) Maple Story, Second Life, Fox News.

William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. His nationally-syndicated humor column, A Criminal Waste of Space, has once again been recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. In the association’s annual Better Newspapers Competition, ACWOS was chosen best column in a small daily publication (the San Francisco Recorder). It is the third time the CNPA has honored ACWOS in the past five years. The award was presented at the CNPA’s annual convention in Universal City on October 25. He can be contacted via email at William.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.