Craig's Corner For Counsel: Sports Law

Friday, February 1, 2008 - 00:00

Sports Law is a growing field as we look to more partnerships with sports organizations and athletes. Walter Champion is the George Foreman Professor of Sports Law and Entertainment at Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. He gained recognition as the consultant for the Association of Boxing Commissioners; he was the general manager for a professional basketball team, Galveston Storm, and continues to practice and consult today. He is also author of Champion's Sports Law in a Nutshell, 3d Edition (Nutshell Series) .

I was able to speak to Walter prior to his trip to the Oxford Round Table, where he will present a paper on Sports Ethics.

Craig Miller: Walter, what trends have you seen that are significant for our readers?

Walter Champion : One of the most significant trends I've noticed since I wrote my first editorial piece on the baseball strike, for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1981, is the decline of antitrust as a tool to effectuate change in professional sports by eliminating player restraints.

Craig Miller: What are some of the issues we should track in 2008?

Walter Champion : Let's look at a few sports individually.

Baseball

Everyone was resting easy - whether you were negotiating a sponsorship contract for your corporation, seeking an athlete for endorsement, or serving as an agent - until the steroid scandal. The collective bargaining agreement will expire in 2011. This should put all of us at ease. No strikes. No lockouts. However, now that Congress is grilling athletes, trainers and managers on steroid use, the commissioner of baseball may feel enough heat to try and establish an addendum to the agreement, and/or break the agreement. The last thing baseball wants is Congress making rules to govern the sport.

Basketball

The scandal involving a referee gambling on games has hit at a terrible time. This tarnishes the league reputation, at a time when there are few "big names" to hold in the spotlight as positive examples. Will they be relegated to WWF status, where viewers perceive the outcome is pre-set. It's certainly a tough time to be negotiating contracts.

Football

The football commissioner is in a "holy war" on image with athletes in cases over dog fighting, throwing money (81,000 one-dollar bills) in the air at a strip club, and the whole "hoodlum" image. Let's hope for a good Super Bowl; the league could use it.

Craig Miller: Could you share a few of the "ah-ha" issues?

Walter Champion : Here is one of my favorites:

In boxing contracts, pull out a big black marker and cross out the clause that calls for mandatory arbitration. If you have to go to mandatory arbitration, you can't seek an injunction. For example, a fight might not take place, let's say due to an injury to the athlete. If you can't seek an injunction, you can't retain the right to that boxing match.

Craig Miller: Historically, are there any specific cases that really changed the sports law arena?

Walter Champion : I think the two most significant are:

Philadelphia Ball Club v. Lajoie, 202 Pa. 210 (Pa. 1902).

This case defined that all members of a team sport are unique. Because they are unique, the team can seek an injunction if an individual tries to play for another team. Lajoie was a Hall of Fame baseball player; however this case affects every athlete for every team. A team can enjoin a player from joining another team.

Clarett v. Nat'l Football League, 369 F.3d 124 (2d Cir. 2004).

This case defines the demise of the non-statutory labor exemption as a means to address employment issues in professional sports. It basically states antitrust law can't be used effectively in a conflict between labor law and antitrust. Labor law will always win.

Thanks to Walter Champion, author of Champion's Sports Law in a Nutshell, 3d Edition (Nutshell Series). The book is available at west.thomson.com.

For additional sports law insight, the following Westlaw databases are also available:

Andrews' Entertainment Industry Litigation Reporter [ANENTILR]

This monthly newsletter tracks sports and entertainment litigation, including breach of contract, misappropriation of funds, invasion of privacy, unfair competition, copyright infringement, trademark dilution, and the First Amendment.

Entertainment Law Reporter [ENTLR]

Through an agreement between West, a Thomson business, and the Entertainment Law Reporter Publishing Company, this monthly publication covers the latest legal developments in movies, music, broadcasting, theater, publishing, art, multimedia and sports.

Entertainment and Recreation Industry News [WNS-ET]

News and information about companies that derive revenue mainly from providing recreational and other entertainment services.