Technically speaking, there is no such thing as sports law. There is only the law applied to sports. The term sports law is perfectly acceptable in casual conversation or in a newspaper article, however the term can be misleading.
There are only three types of law: constitutional, statutory, and administrative. There is also something referred to as common law, which is the interpretation of the other three types. Sports law, therefore, is the application of the law to the various areas of sport.
A few of the most common areas the law can be applied to sport are in regards to contracts, negligence cases, or application of certain laws to sports-specific venues, such as the ADAAA. The Americans with Disabilities Act was actually revised from its original form in 2008 and re-titled the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act. Anyone who works in ticketing, facilities or event management probably is or at least ought to be very familiar with this legislation.
On the other hand, contract law is heard about most often on the news with personnel hirings. Contracts are very prevalent in professional sports with players and coaches being “signed” or recruited nearly every day, as we have all read about online or heard about during our favorite sports news broadcasts. Contracts are also very important for recruiting business partners in other areas of sport. These can include concessionaires who sell food and drinks at games, retail partners that assist in selling merchandise, agreements to use facilities that are not necessarily owned by the organization using them, sponsors who advertise with sport organizations, and many other examples, too numerous to mention here. One specific example of contracts in sport worth mentioning are waiver forms. You see these all the time in youth sports and recreational sports – if you’ve every played on a team of any level, you or your guardian has probably signed one of these waivers – a contract. Contracts are probably one of the most critical elements to operating a sport organization, are implemented to protect the interests of all parties involved and provide a basis for legal action, in the case that such a proceeding would be necessary.
Finally, negligence is another very interesting application of the law to sports because there are such an incredible number of ways an organization can be found negligent. It order to be sued for damages, however, negligence claims require four elements to be met, explained below: duty, breach, causation and harm.
- Duty: The obligation by one to another.
- Breach: Failure to meet the standard of care required by a reasonably prudent person’s standard.
- Causation: Two elements.
- First – Proximate Cause: The defendant is liable for all harms reasonably foreseeable at the time of the act.
- Second – Cause-in-Fact: But for the breach, the harm would not occur.
- Harm: Loss of interest in bodily integrity or in property interest.
The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove the negligence of the defendant and, of course, there are many technicalities that come into play in a sports law case of negligence. This is a basic explanation of what goes in these cases and in order for such a claim to move forward, all elements of negligence must be present.
So what does this mean for sport executives or administrators? Well, you first ought to have a good legal department or consultant to help you understand these issues. Second, it is the responsibility of the leaders of sport organizations to be cognizant of their organizations’ liabilities…where are we at risk? What do we do if something happens? How do our contracts look and are we at risk there?
Perhaps once a year, if not more often, it might be a good idea for sport executives and administrators to review their current contracts and meet with their employees about these issues. Only with an understanding of basic legal issues by all employees will an organization be best protected against legal claims against their organization. It is the responsibility of the organization to understand the law and their responsibilities to the law; regardless of a person’s understanding or awareness, all are still held to the same standards. Just because you didn’t know what the speed limit was, doesn’t mean you’re going to get out of a speeding ticket. You still broke the law, even though you “didn’t know you were going 50 in a 35.” The same thing applies to sport.
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