Sport and Recreation Law

Sports law refers to a specialized practice focused on legal issues pertaining to the sports industry. As with entertainment, arts, or hospitality law, sports law generally refers more to the target industry rather than a separate body of law, though there are a few unique legal issues only faced by professional sports leagues. Common sports law issues include labor law, contract issues, unfair competition and antitrust law, and torts.

Much of sports law is divided between amateur and professional sports. Amateur sports are often governed by collegiate athletic associations, like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The NCAA propagates various rules governing issues like ethical conduct, amateur eligibility, financial aid, recruiting, gender equity, championship events, and academic standards. Gender equality is one area of particular interest in amateur collegiate sports. While membership in the NCAA is voluntary, the NCAA has enforcement power and can introduce a series of punishments against both students athletes and member schools. These punishments even include the so-called "death penalty:" the full shut-down of a sporting activity at an offending college.

Unlike intercollegiate sports, international amateur sports are run by a variety of organizations, like the International Olympic Committee (IOC). International amateur sports can face many of the same legal issues as collegiate sports, and have had a recent spate of anti-doping issues. Often disputes between national sports organizations can become both a proxy for political issues and a flash point for international tensions.

Professional sports leagues, on the other hand, have their own unique set of legal issues. For example, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) acknowledged in 1967 that professional athletes have the right to form unions, or "players associations." It is now common for these professional players associations to call for work strikes in order to apply pressure to owners, usually while negotiating salary standards for the league.

Doping has also become an issue for professional sports in recent years. Player drug violations may lead to suspensions and loss of salary. The issues even became so pointed in the early part of the 2000's that congressional hearings occurred to investigate the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports.

Of course, some of the most famous issues related to sports law have to do with contract negotiations. Players hire agents to represent them in negotiations of multimillion dollar player contracts, trades, promotional deals, etc. Cities negotiate for franchise rights to have a resident team. Stadiums have a stream of commercial contracts with vendors for food and merchandise. Media companies contract for broadcast rights. Obviously, there are many other types of contracts involved in sports law, as well.

In fact, there are a variety of legal matters routinely faced by members of the sports industry. In many ways, it is a general practice with a particular type of clients. The resources below will help provide additional information on sports law, and the "Law Firms" tab, above, will provide you with information about attorneys in your area that can help you with these kinds of legal matters.


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