Professional and amateur sports are a big deal in this country, which is why it should be no surprise that sports law is a growing area of law. Athletes, coaches, managers, and agents all use sports lawyers to represent their interests in everything from contract negotiation to defamation suits. Even more complex legal issues, such as what is considered gender discrimination in sports, are sometimes fought by sports lawyers. If you are an athlete or coach at any level from pee-wee leagues to high school to the pros, you may need the help of a sports lawyer from the Priori network to help you better understand the legal implications of your participation and decisions related to the sport.
Professional Sports Contracts
A big part of what sports lawyers do is negotiate contracts, whether an individual contract on behalf of a single athlete, a contract between an owner and the entire team or even a league-wide contract.
When a professional athlete is particularly popular or successful, they have the opportunity to negotiate sponsorship contracts with a brand or brands. These can be incredibly lucrative contracts, but they must be carefully negotiated to balance the athletes’ best interests with the demands of the companies.
Individual Player Contracts and Professional League CBAs
Many leagues have their own unions or associations just like any other industry. This allows athletes to negotiate individual player hiring contracts as a part under collective bargaining agreements with owners. In sports, these CBAs dictate important terms in players contracts related to issues like free agency, minimum salary, squad size, draft, salary cap, grounds for termination and terms of suspension. Other issues may be negotiated individually on behalf of each player.
Team Doctors and Medical Malpractice
Doctors have a responsibility to correctly diagnose and treat health problems. In the past, team doctors of sports teams have sometimes been pressured to give players a clean bill of health too soon after a sports injury, causing further injury or damage to the player’s health. These situations can lead to medical malpractice suits—even if the person pressuring the doctor to issue a clean bill of health is the injured player who wants to keep playing. A doctor who misrepresents an athlete’s health in any way, whether minimizing an injury or doctoring a drug test can be sued for medical negligence.
Defamation and Privacy Law
Sports stars are public figures, which means that their private lives are published widely, including less than flattering stories. Of course, there are limits to what can be published. If a story is published with reckless disregard for the truth or actual malice, the victim of such defamation can sue. Privacy law protecting athletes can be complex depending on the extent to which they are considered public figures, which is why sports lawyers must be well-versed in the intricacies of privacy and defamation law.
College and Amateur Sports Law
While professional sports make up a large part of sports law today, amateur and college sports law is a growing field. There two main areas of college sports law that sports lawyers deal with regularly.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) dictates almost all of the regulations and rules governing college sports. NCAA bylaws govern what is considered ethical athlete conduct, amateur eligibility, financial aid, recruiting, gender equity, drug use, and academic standards. Any violations are punished by the NCAA and can be contested in a formal hearing. The NCAA can hand down punishments, including the “death penalty,” the full shutdown of all sports activity at an offending university. Some NCAA issues, such as contracts with coaches, can reach the real court system where they are treated as a part of contract law, since any athletes or coaches entered into a contractual agreement to NCAA rules by playing the sport in question.
Title IX makes it illegal for a federally-funded institution to discriminate on the basis of sex or gender. In sports law, this means that colleges can be sued for Title IX discrimination if there are not equal opportunities for women in college sports. The lawsuits are complex, especially as case law in this area of sports law is ever-evolving.
Are mandatory drug tests of athletes legal?
While drug tests without consent or probable cause are illegal when given by the state, it is legal for a private contract to include mandatory consent to drug tests—and for failing such a test to be a violation of such a contract. Athletes generally sign their consent to drug tests as a condition of joining a team or league, which makes them legal in most cases. They can, however, violate privacy laws when conducted unfairly or not within the parameters established in the contract, which is why athletes do have a chance in these types of lawsuits.
Are trademarks, domain names, and other IP issues a part of sports law?
Yes, protecting an athlete’s name and image is a big part of an athlete’s brand. The same IP protections must be used in sports law as in any other type of law.
Are there other situations where a sports lawyer can help?
Yes. Sports lawyers have a wide range of legal expertise within the context of both professional and amateur sports. Any legal issues coming out of athletic competitions is within the purview of sports law, whether a high school football injury lawsuit or the negotiation of a major sponsorship contract.