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Sports law is an umbrella term used to describe the legal issues at work in the world of both amateur and professional sports. Sports law overlaps substantially with labor law, contract law, antitrust law, and tort law. Issues like defamation and privacy rights are also an integral aspect of sports law. The 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.

Contents

Amateur Sports Law

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was formed in 1906 to regulate intercollegiate sports competitions. Membership is voluntary. The NCAA operates along a series of bylaws that govern the areas of ethical conduct, amateur eligibility, financial aid, recruiting, gender equity, championship events and academic standards. The NCAA has enforcement power and can introduce a series of punishments up to the death penalty, the full shut-down of a sporting activity at an offending college.

Title IX is an increasingly important issue in college sports law. The Act, passed in 1972, makes it illegal for a federally funded institution to discriminate on the basis of sex or gender. In sports law, the piece of legislation often refers to the effort to achieve equality for women's sports in colleges. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is charged with enforcing this legislation. This agency implemented a three-prong tests for schools to adhere to: (1) Are the opportunities for female and male athletes proportionate to their enrollment; (2) Does the school have a history of expanding athletic opportunities for women; (3)Has the school demonstrated success in meeting the needs of its students. In 1995 the Gender in Equity Disclosure Act was passed to require schools to report annually the information publicly on male-female athletic participation rates, recruiting by gender, and financial support. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown University v. Cohen, is an important aspect of litigation for women sports.

Unlike intercollegiate sports, international amateur sports are run by a variety of organizations. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is made up of each country's Olympic Committee, which in turn recognizes a national governing body (NGB) for each Olympic related sport. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is the national governing body for all U.S. athletes in the Olympic and Pan-American Games. The IOC is the international governing body for the summer and winter Olympic Games. A critical piece of federal legislation, the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, guarantees certain due process rights including a hearing and an appeal for U.S. athletes under the governance of the USOC and its NGBs. The subject of drug testing especially in international sports like cycling and track and field is under the jurisdiction of each sport's NGB and international federation, the USOC, the IOC, and the World Anti-Doping Agency. The final arbitrator in resolving drug related disputes is the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).

Labor Issues in Sports

In 1967, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accepted that players have the right to form unions or players associations. It is now common for professional athletes to organize into associations or unions in order to negotiate collective bargaining agreements (CBA) with their sport's owners. Under federal labor law, players and owners must negotiate mandatory issues, those relating to hours, wages and working conditions, in good faith. All other issues are deemed permissive, and do not have to be negotiated. Once a CBA is in place players agree not to strike and owners promise not to lock-out players. By way of example, the 2005 National Hockey League (NHL) season was cancelled because of an owner's lock-out after the parties' CBA had expired. In 1994 Major League Baseball (MLB) lost half its season and the playoffs because ballplayers went out on strike over the issue of a salary cap. Historically, the most controversial issues subject to CBA negotiation are free agency, minimum salary, squad size, draft, salary cap, grounds for termination and suspension.

In nearly all professional sports the issue of limits on the use of performance enhancing drugshas become an integral aspect of CBA negotiations. Drug policies are not uniform for all professional sports. Typically, each CBA explains the policy regarding drug testing, list of banned drugs, violations, penalties, privacy issues, and rights of appeal. Drug violations may lead to suspensions and loss of salary. The current BALCO controversy involving high-profile professional athletes and coaches highlights the allegedly widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in different sports.

Player-agents, made famous by the famous line from a player to his agent ("Show me the money!") in the Jerry Maguire movie, are generally certified by each sport's players association. Once certified, player agents or contract advisors may negotiate individual player contracts. Agents that are entrusted to conduct business on a player's behalf owe a fiduciary duty, i.e., a duty of remain loyal, act honestly, behave ethically and act in the player's best interest at all time, when negotiating. More than half the states in the United States currently regulate the activities of player-agents in addition to union regulation for bad acts. Super agents like baseball's Scott Boras and football's Drew Rosenhaus are frequently the subject of media profiles. The first body to assist player agents in learning the ins-and-outs of contract negotiations, endorsements and media relations was the Association for Representatives of Athletes (ARPA). The co-founders and leaders of ARPA, since absorbed into the NFL Players Association, were Professor William Weston (University of Baltimore Law School) and Professor Michael E. Jones (University of Massachusetts Lowell). The late Bob Woolf is acknowledged as one of the first player agents when he assisted Boston Red Sox pitcher, Earl Wilson, negotiate his player contract.

Labor issues are not unique to United States law. The European Union has had to deal with countless sports-related legal issues. The most important development in this area was the Bosman ruling, in which the European Court of Justice invalidated restrictions imposed by EU member countries and UEFA (the governing body for football within Europe) on foreign EU nationals. Bosman was extended to countries with associate trading relationships with the EU by the Kolpak ruling. The 6+5 rule is a current FIFA rule that seeks to limit the effects of Bosman and its offshoots on football clubs, and has sparked considerable legal controversy in Europe.

Antitrust Issues in Sports

Up until only a few decades ago, most United States professional sports leagues retained clauses in players' contracts that essentially made it so that the players could rarely leave their original teams by their own choice. These so-called reserve clauses were upheld because courts found that these sports leagues did not operate in interstate trade or commerce, meaning they did not fall under antitrust laws. See Federal Baseball Club v. National League. This interpretation has largely been eroded today. However, Major League Baseball (MLB) may still retain limited anti-trust exemptions (unclear whether the entire exemption has been overruled by Flood Act because the true extent of the exemption was vague). It is important to note that the formation of players unions for the purpose of negotiating contracts with management is exempt from anti-trust scrutiny under labor law; and the by-product of good faith negotiations between management and players unions in the form of a CBA is also exempt from anti-trust scrutiny.

Tort Law Issues

Until recently, torts were never a part of the landscape of sports law. However, in 1975 an Illinois' appeals court established the notion that players can be found guilty of negligence if their actions are "deliberate, willful or with a reckless disregard for the safety of another player so as cause injury to that player." See Nabozny v. Barnhill. Negligence torts are typically harder to prove in contact sports, where violent actions and injuries are more common and thus more expected (assumption of risk or self-defense). Spectators can also sue for negligence if their injuries could not have been expected (not foreseeable) given the nature of the sporting event they were attending. A baseball fan sitting in the bleachers could reasonable expect a baseball could come toward the seat, but a wrestling fan sitting courtside could not reasonably expect a wrestler to come flying his or her way.

Sports' tort law extends into other less obvious areas. Team doctors could be liable for medical malpractice, a form of negligence, for giving a player a false clean bill of health just so that player may continue to perform. A player who purposefully causes bodily harm to another athlete, coach or spectator may be guilty of committing an intentional tort along with a criminal act of assault and battery. The law of defamation protects a person's good character or reputation. The publication of false information about a well-known athlete (public figure) may be actionable if it was published with a reckless disregard for the truth or actual malice. The growth of non-traditional media outlets, e.g. web pages, instant messaging, cable, etc. has added a new dynamic to this area of the law.

Closely related to the subject of torts in some ways, is the area of publicity rights. While the tort of defamation protects a person's reputation, the right of publicity permits a person to commercial exploit his or her likeness, name and image. This area of sports law includes trademarks, tradenames, domain names and even copyrights.

Business and Academic Aspects of Sports Law

The leaders of the businesses of sports include the heads of the major international and national amateur organizations of the IOC, USOC, and their respective NGBs. The owners of major professional sports teams ranging from the Rooney family in Pittsburgh to Al Davis in Oakland are all major contributors to the popularity of their respective sports and industries. The executive directors of the various players association, including one of the longest sitting union leaders - Donald Fehr - of the MLB Players Association, also have become well known publicly for negotiating CBAs in the best interests of its players. The owners of each professional sports league elect a commissioner who serves as that sport's media voice. Perhaps the best known commissioner is the NBA's David Stern. Television and other media executives and reporters play a critical role in presenting sports before the public allowing instantaneous unfolding of occasionally civil and criminal sports acts. The so-called Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction during an NFL Super Bowl half-time show raised legal issues of broadcast indecency, by way of example.

The field of sports law as an area worthy of definition and academic inquiry owes a debt of gratitude to Professor Robert Berry who organized the material and taught the first course in Sports Law at Boston College Law School. Shortly thereafter, the late Robert Waters(University of Miami Law School) and Professors Weistart and Lowell contributed substantially to the field. At the non-law school level, the first Sports Law course materials and classes were independently created by Professor Glenn Wong (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Professor Michael E. Jones (now at University of Massachusetts Lowell).

The Tulane University Law School offers a certificate in Sports Law[1] and runs the Sports Lawyers Journal, a student-run law journal funded by the Sports Lawyers Association (SLA).[2]

At 1992 in Athens, was founded the International Association of Sports Law (IASL) during the 1st International Congress on Sports Law. The objective of IASL is the cultivation and the development of the Science, the research and the teaching of Sports Law and the institution of the Olympic Games.

References

  1. Champion, Walter, Sports Law. 2nd edition, St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co. 2000. ISBN #: 0314238891
  2. Dudley, William, Drugs and Sports. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2001. ISBN #: 1565106970
  3. Epstein, Adam, Sports Law. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Press, 2003. ISBN # 0766823245
  4. Jones, Michael. Sports Law. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1999. ISBN # 0136765459
  5. Weiler, Paul and Roberts, Gary. Sports and the Law. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1993. ISBN 0314021620
  6. Wong, Glenn. Essentials of Amateur Sports Law. Westport, CN: Praeger, 1994.
  7. Yasser, Raymond, et al. Sports Law: Cases and Materials, 5th edition, Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co., 2003 ISBN # 1583607994

Further reading

  • Gardiner, Simon, et al. (2005-12-13). Sports Law (3rd ed. ed.). London: Routledge-Cavendish. ISBN 978-1-85941-894-9.  

External links

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