If criminal law is the body of law that governs criminals and the commission of crimes, and labor law is that which governs wages, employment, and labor unions, shouldn’t it follow that sports law is the body of law that governs athletes and athletic competition? Although attorneys, law students, and the media refer to sports law as though it were in fact an independent body of substantive law, the term sports law is actually a misnomer. Noted Harvard law professor Paul Weiler, whom many consider the founder of what we call sports law, underscores this point on page two of his textbook Sports and the Law (West 4th ed. 2010). Weiler specifically points to the book’s title, which, read lliterally, reinforces his point that sports, and law are two mutually exclusive and independent concepts. So if there isn’t any body of law specifically called sports law, how is it that there are so-called sports lawyers?
The easy answer to that is—Cincinnati Bengals notwithstanding—the legal issues in sports are oftentimes lucrative and complex; thus, what perpetuates the sports law-myth is the glamorous media portrayal of the intersection of sports and the law. Add to that the fact that “sports lawyers” are, themselves high-profile, and it has become more and more common for lawyers to moonlight as sports agents, or give up practicing law altogether to become full-time agents. Case in point: Two of the most prominent sports agents today, Scott Boras and Drew Rosenhaus, are both lawyers. Rosenhaus, a/k/a “Next Question,” is a 1990 graduate of Duke Univ. School of Law, and has negotiated more than $2 billion in NFL contracts. Although Boras graduated from a small law school in California, his $20 million, 23,000 square-foot Newport Beach office compound is anything but small. Nor are the scores of MLB contracts he’s brokered, including both of Alex Rodriguez‘s record-setting contracts, which combine for over half a billion dollars. But is this sports law, or just garden-variety contract law?
It’s difficult to turn on Sportscenter these days without hearing about a high-profile contract dispute between an athlete and franchise, or rumors of a lockout or strike, or a professional athlete who was arrested for shooting a gun in a night club, or crashing his SUV while driving under the influence. Each of these scenarios involves, respectively, the well-established doctrines of contract law, labor and employment law, and criminal law.
It is my intention that by stating for the record—here, in my very first post—that sports law isn’t really what it purports to be, I cannot be guilty of perpetuating that same myth. Having said that, we call it sports law because of the players involved, rather than the game itself (pun intended).
Next: Part II, Antitrust