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What is Sports Law?

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Sports law refers to the collection of laws which regulate the sporting industry, including professional sports, recreational sports, and youth programs. Within sports law, there are a variety of other fields of law which play an active part, including contract and personal injury law, not to mention trademarks for sports teams and their intellectual property such as logos or images. Additionally, professional sports are subject to many of the same labor laws as other industries.

Amateur sports are generally governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), while professional sports are subject to a slightly different set of laws, such as those detailed in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Athletes in all categories are subject to certain legal protections, including protection against injuries caused by a lack of attention to safety. To learn more about sports law or for help with a sports management legal problem, reach out to a sports law attorney.

Common Types of Sports Law Cases

As with any field of law, this subfield has a variety of issues which are more commonly litigated than others. When someone works in the sports industry in any capacity, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the specific rights attributed to athletes as well as the legal problems they might come across in their profession.

Common types of sports law cases include but are not limited to the following:

  • Concussions/return-to-play policies: Every state has a law regarding when and how an athlete may return to play after sustaining a concussion or possible concussion. In most cases an athlete suspected of suffering from a concussion must be removed from play for an entire day, and only allowed to return with written notice from a doctor.
  • Injury liability: Across every industry, coaches, athletic personnel, and employers are required to do everything in their power to create a reasonably safe environment, and to provide access to immediate medical care if an injury occurs. A failure to do these things could result in a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party.
  • Constitutional rights of student athletes: This has been a particular problem in recent years with student athletes suspended over challenging a coach or another sports industry authority, only for that individual to find themselves facing a lawsuit over the violation of the civil right of free speech.
  • Hazing: This is a particular problem in student athletics and training programs. Most organizations and schools have anti-hazing policies in place, but these are regularly challenged for being considered inadequate to combat the problem with hazing.
  • Sexual harassment in athletics: Sexual harassment continues to be a problem in the sports industry, as it is in many. This is a problem that may be enacted by or suffered by any member of the sports industry as well as the people who live/work in and around it.
  • Transgender policies: This issue revolves around arguments over whether trans-student athletes should be allowed to compete with the gender with which they identify, or their gender assigned at birth. Regulations regarding transgender policies in student athletic programs vary from state to state.
  • Discrimination in sports: If any coach, athlete, or sports organization discriminates against a player or potential player for reasons such as age, gender, race, religion, disability, or other identifying factor, they may face serious legal ramifications in this day and age when sports law regarding these parties is always under inspection.

Areas of Sports Law

Sports law is not necessarily its own field of law, but is a phrase used to describe the various laws which relate to ensuring the fair regulation of the sporting industry. There are many fields of law which may need to be applied in order to solve a dispute within the sports industry. Sports management attorneys are not only familiar with these fields of law, but are intimately familiar with how these laws apply specifically and unique to the field of athletics.

Fields of law commonly engaged in the sporting industry include but are not necessarily limited to the following:

  • Contract law. Contracts in sports management law occur in every area; from signing new players to creating fair advertising contracts, it’s important to find an attorney who is experienced in drafting and reviewing sports contracts.
  • Personal injury law. Injuries are extremely common within the sports industry. If you or a loved one are injured as the result of another party’s negligence, seek medical care and contact an attorney as soon as possible.
  • Employment and labor law. Sports provide employment for a wide variety of people around the world, and these people deserve the same rights and protections as any other industry.
  • Antitrust law. Antitrust laws exist to prevent the development of monopolies over certain trademarks. This is a common area of sports management law; it’s important to avoid violating antitrust laws by close attention to any contracts signed or agreements made.
  • Intellectual property rights. Trademarks and copyrights are two common types of intellectual property which any sports team may have. If a sports team feels that their logo, colors, or other identifying feature has been infringed upon, legal action may be taken to correct the infringement.
  • Sexual harassment and assault law. Athletic personnel and players alike are held to the same standards of sexual conduct as any other industry. Title IX is a commonly referenced law in this area, and any violations of it should be reported immediately.
  • Drug law. Players may be required to undergo and pass routine drug testing to prevent the use of steroids and other illicit drugs in order to benefit a player’s performance.
  • Criminal law. When someone within the sports industry engages in illegal conduct, especially as related to the industry, that conduct should be reported immediately and it may be necessary to engage a defense attorney.

If you work in the sporting industry and have a legal question or need help navigating the business of sports management, reach out to a sports law attorney. Knowing how to incorporate and follow the many laws in different practice areas which apply to the sports industry can be a challenge. It’s better to let a professional who knows the laws and how to engage with them protect you, your team, and/or your organization from liability or harm.

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