A Breakdown of Sports Law

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Sports law is the body of legal issues at work in the world of both amateur and professional sports. Sports law overlaps substantially with labor law, contract law, competition or antitrust law, and tort law. Issues like defamation and privacy rights are also integral aspects of sports law. This area of law was established as a separate and important entity only a few decades ago, coinciding with the rise of player-agents and increased media scrutiny of sports law topics.

Having hashed out the intricacies of furry and cuddly animal law last week, we turn in the second installment of our practice-area series to sports law — the pragmatic option for all the nerdy types hoping to salvage a distant cousin of their childhood pro athlete aspirations.

Along with the autographed baseballs and high school varsity letterman’s jackets, you can expect the sports lawyers’ offices stacked high with contract and labor law tomes. A great deal of the work involves making sure that the organizations, whether professional or amateur, are running efficiently, properly, and legally. The other side of the coin, in part, involves making sure that the athletes themselves are well taken care of in the process, and well represented in the decision-making that can materially effect their schedules, finances, and — in some cases — personal safety.

The recent “holdout” by Seattle Seahawks linebacker Kam Chancellor provides a useful illustration of how sports law can look at its extreme. Most professional athletes play under a contract with their team, but at some point in the course of an athlete’s progression from rookie to standout they may feel that their productivity has outgrown the contract terms for which they had originally signed. That’s essentially where Chancellor, an anchor of the Seahawk’s renowned defense, found himself this season as he watched gargantuan contracts go out to teammates like Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson. You can bet that there were armies of lawyers involved, on both sides, every day of his (ultimately unsuccessful) 54 day bid for a renegotiation.

Another interesting thing to look out for in sports law in the coming years will surely be the NFL’s handling of head trauma. There’ve been a few concussion-related lawsuits filed by football players in the past, and in recent years we’ve seen a growing public awareness around the issue, the zenith of which involved Obama saying last year that, if he had a son, he wouldn’t let him play pro football. But with a provocative Will Smith blockbuster called Concussion dropping on Christmas Day this year, we can expect the issue to play increasingly heavily in the sport zeitgeist going forward.

What other niches of sports law interest you? Torts on the court? Mandated press conferences? Dress codes? Comment below!

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