Sports law is the collection of the many different types of law that impact the sports industry. Sports law might involve issues that relate to professional or Olympic athletes. It also relates to laws that govern youth and amateur sports. There are many different types of law that impact the sports industry like contract law, personal injury law, trademark, criminal law, and athletic administration. Sports lawyers live and work throughout the United States.
What is sports law?
Even though professional sports agents might be the first thing that come to mind, sports law is a broad term for many different types of law that impact the way people play sports both professionally and recreational. For example, a professional athlete relies on contract law for a playing agreement. Trademark law might protect the team that they play for. If an athlete gets hurt inside or outside the field of play, personal injury law might come into play. In addition to professional athletes, sports law reaches the youngest children that play sports. Rules for coach training and safety equipment might impact young athletes. College athletes also feel the impact of sports law as the colleges and universities they play with work to comply with Title IX laws and regulations from sports governing authorities like the NCAA and the NAIA. Some types of sports law include:
Contract law in sports law
Perhaps the most well known area of sports law is contract law. Contracts between professional athletes and the teams that employ them are of critical importance. For star athletes, contracts can involve millions of dollars. A contract must carefully spell out terms of performance. Sports lawyers often serve as agents as well as legal negotiators. Sports law involves more than just athletes; coaches, trainers, managers and athletic trainers need sports contracts, too. Lawyers who practice sports law are often both the contract drafters and the negotiators when millions of dollars are on the line.
Personal injury law in sports law
Personal injuries happen in sports. A personal injury can occur during the game, and it can occur outside of the field of play. Personal injury law may be relevant to sports law. While an athlete may bring a legal claim after a personal injury, the millions of fans that attend sporting events may have personal injury claims too. Any venue that hosts sporting events must take care to avoid negligent behaviors that may lead to personal injury liability. A sports venue may have a high duty to keep their property safe for patrons who buy tickets under the legal theory of premises liability. If a fan gets injured at a game, it may become a legal issue if the sports venue is negligent in their maintenance of the property.
Trademark law in sports law
Professional sports teams depend on their trademarks. Trademark infringement is a challenging area of sports law for the attorneys who work to enforce trademarks on behalf of college and professional sports teams. Merchandising is often as critical to the income of a college or professional team as ticket sales. Sports lawyers perform a critical function enforcing the trademark rights of the teams they represent.
Criminal law in sports law
Sports law isn’t immune from criminal law. A jury convicted Major League Baseball star Barry Bonds of obstruction of justice for his testimony to a grand jury. Bonds’ trainer faced federal charges for providing athletes with banned steroids. A higher court later overturned the conviction on appeal. Athletes are not immune from criminal prosecution for on-field behavior. Most behavior in sports falls under presumed consent. In other words, some physical contact is part of the game. However, when contact goes above and beyond what’s expected and reasonable in a sporting event, an athlete may face criminal prosecution for their actions. Whether an athlete is a professional, collegiate athlete or amateur, any athlete may face criminal charges for an assault and battery offense that goes beyond the scope of play. Some sporting activity is outright illegal. For example, cock fighting and dog fighting is banned in all 50 states. In some states, it’s illegal to even watch a cockfight. Some offenses are criminal felonies. Professional athletes are subject to the laws of society. When they face criminal charges, it’s often high profile. Their professional reputation or participation in their athletic league may be on the line. Criminal charges for athletes in professional sports and for collegiate athletes may be high-stakes. Sports lawyers must work to protect their athletes’ record as well as their professional reputation.
Athletic administration in sports law
Both laws and administrative regulations play a role in sports law in the form of collegiate athletics. Colleges and universities must comply with a myriad of federal and state laws as well as governing body regulations when they run college athletics programs. These regulations cover everything from equal opportunities to banned substances, practice schedules and other regulations for the health and safety of athletes. Colleges and universities must understand these laws and regulations and implement them to the satisfaction of law enforcement or sport governing bodies like the NCAA. Organizations that violate laws may find themselves the subject of discipline by enforcement agencies.
Labor and employment law in sports law
Professional sports teams and sports venues are employers. From the professional athletes to coaches to the security guards and concessions team members that work at games, a professional or college sports team is an employer. Labor and employment laws apply to sports teams. Practicing sports law might mean helping the client understand and implement labor and employment laws including hiring practices, termination procedures, workers compensation, health insurance mandates, taxes and medical leave.
Personal property law in sports law
Sports law may include personal property law. Sports memorabilia may be an issue in sports law. Sports law may determine who owns an item of sports memorabilia when ownership is in dispute. Alternatively, when a divorce involves sports memorabilia, sports law may involve family law.
Sports law continues to grow and change
Sports law is not static; it is as unpredictable as any athletic contest. As issues continue to grow and change in sports, sports lawyers must work with evolving issues. One example of a recent sports law issues is the issue of concussions in all sports especially football. The NFL faces legal claims from players who say that the NFL knew that the sport was unreasonably dangerous and failed to take steps to protect the safety of players. As sports law continues to grow and evolve, sports lawyers have new issues of law to develop and pursue.
Who practices sports law?
Sports lawyers live and work in major cities throughout the United States. Lawyers who work for professional sports teams live in the cities where the teams operate. Lawyers who work for professional athletes either live in major entertainment hubs like New York or Los Angeles or they work in the cities where the athletes and other professionals work. Lawyers in sports law work both as private attorneys who represent individual athletes and as in house attorneys who work for professional sports teams. Lawyers who work as private practice attorneys are more likely to specialize in a niche area of sports law and serve their clients only in that capacity; in house counsel attorneys who work on behalf of private sports organizations are more likely to serve their clients in a variety of legal areas. Most lawyers who practice sports law have a diverse understanding of the many different areas of law that may impact their clients.
Why become a sports lawyer?
Attorneys who practice sports law have the opportunity to practice their craft in an exciting arena. They have the opportunity to practice law in a high-profile and influential field. For attorneys who enjoy sports, a specialization in sports law can be a challenging way to stay active in the world of sports while earning an income in a unique area of law.
Turning a game into a profession
Professional, collegiate and recreational sports are important both to participants and to fans. Sports law is a fun and challenging way to practice an area of law in a way that relates to sports. Whether a sports lawyer focuses only on sports-related clients or practices sports law as part of a broader practice, sports law can be a fun way to practice serious business.