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Sabres file suit on behalf of strength coach for immigration status

The Buffalo Sabres filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, alleging the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have improperly denied a green card for Dr. Edward Anthony Gannon, the team's head strength and conditioning coach.

The 34-page complaint says the agency acted made an "unlawful, arbitrary" decision to deny the team's petition for permanent residency on behalf of Gannon, who is from Great Britain and has worked for the team since 2015. The team based its petition by classifying Gannon "as an individual of extraordinary ability."

The suit was first reported Tuesday by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

The suit describes Gannon as "a UK national who possesses a Ph.D. in Applied Strength and Conditioning from the University of Bath — a leading university in the UK with an international reputation for research and the sciences." The team's position is that Gannon has reached the level required for certification by reaching a position held by only 31 people in the top hockey league in the world. The agency, however, said the Sabres have failed to show Gannon has reached national or international notoriety in his field. The team says the agency is twisting facts and not properly applying reference letters on Gannon's behalf as well as his qualifications.

The team's initial petition on behalf of Gannon was filed on Oct. 15, 2019, and was denied on Jan. 14. They are sponsoring him "to utilize his services to ensure that their athletes operate at consistently high levels in order to compete against other world-class athletes. "

"Dr. Gannon plays a critical role for the organization as a whole to reduce the financial cost of players lost game time through effective and efficient prevention strategies in the areas of mobility, stability, balance, strength, power and conditioning," the suit says. "This is critical as injury to key players can reduce the team’s chances of winning and represents a significant financial cost to the organization."

The Sabres cited Gannon's qualifications based on his ascension to the position, his research, training methods used by other teams and universities, speaking engagements and compensation levels.

The denial decision chastises the Sabres for not including articles from the media describing Gannon's "significant original contributions" but the suit notes that "Dr. Gannon is not in a field where his work would normally be covered by media." The Sabres, in fact, like many professional sports teams, do not make their training staff available to reporters.

"Let me stress that we selected Ed after an exhaustive search across the world of professional sports performance," Sabres president Kim Pegula wrote on behalf of Gannon in a letter contained within the lawsuit. "We spanned the globe to find an elite Strength and Conditioning expert because this role is absolutely critical to our overall organizational success. It is a critical role that is fundamental to our organization’s success both on and off the ice.

"We spend tens of millions of dollars each year on world-class athletes. We require our Head of Strength and Conditioning to expertly monitor and train these athletes so they achieve success on the ice. It is a critical role that we entrust to someone who also has world-class credentials and who can properly take care of our valuable assets.”

The team says continued denial of its petition puts Gannon at risk of having to leave the United States and could impair the Sabres' ability "to successfully conduct its operations in the U.S. and potentially subject them to substantial financial harm and disruption in developing their athletes if Dr. Gannon needs to depart."

In addition to a reversal of Gannon's status, the Sabres are suing for attorney fees and associated costs. The lawsuit was filed by Hockey Western New York LLC, the team's corporate moniker.  A Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman declined comment, saying the agency does not speak on pending litigation.

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