Common Legal Issues Affecting Professional Athletes in Sports

The sports world has become big business over the past few decades. What used to be viewed as an innocent pastime has now become a globalized industry where brands, agents and stakeholders are all looking to score with the profession – both on and off the field.


From football to basketball, hockey, baseball, soccer, tennis, athletics and everything in between, the professional athlete has to deal with a number of issues from an individual standpoint and for the sake of the employer – the franchise.


So what common legal issues will arise in this domain of professional sports? Let us outline some of the more prevalent instances.

Damaging The Brand


Whilst there is more stringent rules and regulations placed on school and college athletes in an amateur setting, the legalities surrounding professional athletes and their conduct in accordance with “the brand” is more subjective. There have been instances where sportsmen have been fired following various social media posts or making inflammatory or controversial statements to the press. What could follow is a dispute where the organization must justify their actions as the athlete stands by their first amendment right to free speech.

Contract Disputes


The status of a professional contract in the sport world will vary depending on the infrastructure and philosophy to that community. Some contracts are heavily incentivized whilst others are divided between guaranteed income and bonuses for performance and success gleaned as seen in the NFL and NBA for example. Yet much of the power rests with the organization with player trades and cuts occurring on a regular basis, throwing these athletes lives into a state of stress and tension. The ensuing battle between player, agent and organization is an ongoing matter across the board.

Drug and Alcohol Offenses


Whether it be doping for performance enhancing purposes or recreational use of drugs or alcohol, professional athletes can be prone to falling foul of the law in these circumstances. Cases of the former will see the regulatory body of that sport and the franchise impose a ban, and occasionally the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will be called upon as it was with Lance Armstrong during his scandal following the Tour de France victories.


Examples of intoxication and drinking whilst under the influence places these athletes at the mercy of the law and they are subject to the same legal implications as the general public. Only here, there is a stronger degree of scrutiny from the perspective of the press.