Foundations of the United States Sports Law Model: Structure and Key Issues

By Jones, Karen L. | The International Sports Law Journal, July-October 2011 | Go to article overview

Foundations of the United States Sports Law Model: Structure and Key Issues


Jones, Karen L., The International Sports Law Journal


This article provides an overview of the United States sports law model and reviews some of the important cases that helped develop the foundations of the United States sports law model. Key issues, cases and legislation that impact sports law in the United States today are also discussed. A brief comparative between United States sports law and European sports law on specified key issues is included in the review.

1. Introduction

Attempting to provide an overview of the United States (also referred to as, "US") sports law model is at best an optimistic undertaking. This is the case for several reasons: to fully address the United States sports law model would require an in-depth understanding of the structure of the United States laws, in both a historical and practical sense, including an understanding of the court systems. Further, such an undertaking would also require a fundamental understanding of the United States sports structure, the games and how the sports structure fits within the legal environment. Finally, to really understand the United States sports law model, would require an understanding of the social and economic environment that has a substantial impact on the way sports are played, the structure of sports law, and the sports governance model in the United States, as a whole. Therefore, to achieve some level of success in addressing this topic, this article will focus on providing an overview of United States sports, a cursory review of the foundations of the United States sports law model with some comparatives between the United States and the European sports law models, and a look at some of the prevailing legal issues that impact United States sports today.

2. United States Sports Law Defined

The question of "What is Sports Law?" has been addressed quite a bit by United States academics. (1) Nonetheless, there are those who still question whether or not a separate area of law, sports law, actually exists; there are those who see the area of sports law as developing into an independent discipline, and finally, there are those who feel that the area of sports law has sufficiently developed in the United States to sustain the autonomous title of sports law as an independent discipline. (2) Since Professor Davis wrote his article in 2001, and in a more recent analysis of the question of "What is Sports Law?" By Professor Rob Siekmann in his Inaugural lecture at Erasmus Rotterdam University in June 2011, the discussion and debate on the topic has continued. Perhaps the scholarly inquiry and debate in and of itself can help sustain the existence of sports law as a legal discipline, as such limited debate at the time of Professor Davis' article was determined to be a basis for concluding that sports law was not a separate and distinct discipline. (3) Although the debate continues, for purposes of this discussion, this article will assume that sports law is a distinguishable legal discipline.

Like many other countries, United States sports law, or Lex Sportiva (4), is largely comprised of various areas of substantive law, in addition to the governance structures (ex. CAS (5)) and legislation derived as a result of the specificity of sport. United States sports law has not traditionally been an independent identifiable legal discipline within itself. Instead, it has comprised the more traditional areas of labor law, antitrust, tort law, contracts law, and others. Similar also to other areas of the world, US sports law has evolved, to consideration in the development of a specified area of law and study. However, in the United States, sports law is often wrapped under the umbrella of entertainment law, although more recently, over the past two (2) decades, the unique aspects of sports law cannot be ignored. The emergence of sports law into its own distinct legal discipline has allowed more focus to be given to the special characteristics that comprise sports law. …

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