Federal judge rejects coach’s First Amendment claim

Monday, May 8, 2000

A scholastic regulation limiting outside coaching by high school athletic coaches does not violate the First Amendment, a federal judge has ruled in denying a coach’s request for a preliminary injunction.

New York’s Bethlehem Central High School adopted a Suburban Scholastic Council rule prohibiting high school coaches from coaching outside their schools if those teams draw more than 50% of their players from the coaches’ own school.

The rule was designed to prevent high school teams from gaining an advantage over other teams by playing together during the off-season.

Bethlehem baseball coach Jesse Braverman, who coached in the local Mickey Mantle League, sued in federal court in 1999 after being told that he was in violation of the rule.
Braverman sued the Suburban Scholastic Council, the Bethlehem Central School District and various officials from both the council and the school district.

In his lawsuit, Braverman argued that the rule violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.

He sought a preliminary injunction preventing the defendants from enforcing the rule. On May 4, U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy denied the motion for a preliminary injunction in Braverman v. Suburban Scholastic Council.

McAvoy first addressed Braverman’s freedom-of-association claims.

Although the First Amendment does not specifically mention a right of association, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the amendment does provide protection for two types of association: intimate association and expressive association.

“Intimate association” refers to close human relationships, such as marriage, upon which the state has no power to intrude. Expressive association refers to associating for the purpose of engaging in First Amendment-protected activity. Under this right, people may associate with others to exercise their rights to freedom of speech, assembly, religion or petition.

“The Constitution does not recognize a generalized right of social association,” McAvoy wrote. “The desire to participate in a Mickey Mantle league is more akin to a non-protected business or social relationship than a constitutionally protected intimate relationship.”

The judge also rejected the expressive-association claim. He determined that the Mickey Mantle League does not engage in activities protected by the First Amendment.

“There is no indication that the Mickey Mantle League takes positions on public issues, engages in political or religious debate, or otherwise engages in protected conduct,” McAvoy wrote.

McAvoy also rejected Braverman’s free-speech claim. He noted that the rule does not “completely prohibit Plaintiff from engaging in outside coaching and does not regulate the Mickey Mantle League.”

The judge also noted that the First Amendment did not protect Braverman’s speech, because his speech in the baseball league was not on a matter of public concern.

McAvoy questioned the wisdom of the rule, writing: “The Court is sympathetic with Mr. Braverman’s situation and questions the utility of the subject rule. At the hearing, Mr. Braverman appeared to be genuinely interested in the welfare of all of his players, regardless of their town of residence, and in coaching children and teenagers in the sport of baseball.”

However, the court said it was constrained to follow the law and deny him his requested relief.

Calls to attorneys for both sides were not returned.