How Does One Study and Practice Sports and Entertainment Law?

"It is a common misperception that "sports law” is a narrow field populated primarily by lawyers representing professional athletes, sports leagues, or clubs who have specialized expertise in sports-specific laws. To the contrary, "sports lawyers” represent a wide variety of clients who need legal advice and representation that usually requires knowledge of several general areas of law.

Virtually every field of law regulates or is relevant to one or more aspects of youth, high school, college, Olympic and international, professional, or recreational sports.

It is debatable whether "sports law” (like cyber law or health care law) is a discrete area of law, or merely the application of many areas of general law to a unique industry. In the United States there is no direct government regulation of sports at any level of competition. There are few sport-specific federal or state laws, with the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. §220501, et seq., and athlete agent statutes (adopted by more than 30 states) being notable exceptions. However, because of the unique features of sports competition such as the need for uniform rules and competitive balance, general laws often are applied differently to sports than to other social or business activities. For example, physical contact among participating athletes is an inherent part of the game, so tort law permits some on-field contact that would otherwise infringe a person’s legal rights. Similarly, because off-field cooperation in the form of rules and agreements among groups that produce or sponsor sports events is necessary to ensure competitive balance and an uncertain outcome that generates fan interest, antitrust law is applied differently than to the same conduct in other industries.

Although sports law courses are a relatively recent addition to the curriculum at most law schools, lawyers have practiced "sports law” for many years (many of whom, including me, never took a sports law course). However, several general courses I took as a law student, particularly antitrust, tort, and intellectual property law, provided a solid foundation of general knowledge enabling me to represent clients in several sports-related matters and to teach sports law. As a practicing lawyer who specialized in intellectual property law, I registered trademarks and copyrights on behalf of sports industry clients, provided advice regarding a trademark licensor’s potential legal liability for defective playing equipment manufactured by its licensee, and defended a restaurant in a copyright infringement suit for showing a "blacked out” NFL game to its patrons. As a law professor, I have represented Harris County, Texas, in litigation concerning the Houston Oilers NFL club’s relocation to Nashville, filed an amicus brief on behalf of two sports medicine physician organizations in an American With Disabilities Act suit by a college basketball player against Northwestern University, served as an expert witness in Title IX gender equity litigation, advised a golf club manufacturer about potential legal claims arising out of the decertification of its golf clubs, and provided legal advice in a major league baseball player’s medical malpractice suit against his former team.

Sports law is a very eclectic and interesting field, and lawyers representing sports industry clients must have expertise in several areas of law to represent their clients effectively. Counsel for professional leagues and clubs need general knowledge of contract, labor, private association, antitrust, tort, tax, and intellectual property law. Those representing professional athletes must be familiar with labor and employment, contract, federal and state tax, and worker’s compensation laws as well as the multiple layers of athlete agent regulation. It is essential for lawyers representing professional sports industry clients or those doing business with them to have strong contract negotiation and drafting skills. An understanding of the arbitration process is important because most employment-related disputes between professional athletes and the league or their respective clubs are resolved by mandatory arbitration. Representation of individuals, educational institutions, and governing bodies that are part of the youth, high school, college, or Olympic sports industries also requires broad knowledge of several areas of law including contract, private association, tort, and constitutional law (if the requisite "state action" exists) as well as arbitration (for Olympic sports).

Although sports lawyers have varied backgrounds, most of them did not obtain full-time employment with sports organizations or have a stable of sports industry clients upon graduation from law school. Rather, they gained legal knowledge, skills, and experience representing clients in other industries that have proven to be readily transferable and useful in serving the needs of sports industry clients or handling sports-related matters. Very few attorneys spend a majority of their time practicing sports law, but many lawyers perform professional services for one or more clients who are part of, or have dealings with, the sports industry." (Matthew Mitten, The Young Lawyer, ABA Young Lawyers Division, December 2008)

WCL Courses and Seminars:

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Antitrust Law
  • Antitrust, Innovation, and Intellectual Property
  • Communications Law
  • Copyright Law
  • Advanced Copyright Law
  • Corporate Finance
  • Education Law (esp. Title IX)
  • Employment and Labor Law
  • Entertainment Law
  • Federal Corporate Tax
  • Federal Personal Income Tax
  • First Amendment
  • Intellectual Property
  • Intellectual Property Management
  • Interviewing and Counseling
  • Advanced Issues in Labor Law
  • Lawyer Bargaining
  • Lawyers and Clients: Interviewing and Counseling
  • Media Law: Mass Media
  • Pension and Employee Benefit Law
  • Real Estate
  • Sports Law
  • Trademark Law
  • Law and the Visual Arts
  • Wills, Trusts and Estates

Related Courses:

  • Accounting Fundamentals and the Law Administrative Law
  • Law and Accounting
  • Advanced Constitutional Law
  • International Copyright
  • Employment Discrimination
  • Externships in related areas
  • International Sales
  • Sex-based Discrimination