Sports Law

Our sports industry team has the experience and knowledge to ensure our clients thrive in a dynamic landscape, where the financial stakes and the scope of regulations are constantly increasing. Members of our team regularly represent intercollegiate and professional coaches, players, athletic directors, team administrators, sports agents and franchises in a full spectrum of legal matters ranging from first contracts to complex renegotiations, disputes, litigation and beyond. 

The legal arena is nearly as much a part of the sports world as is the field of play. Headlines centering on the likes of Title IX issues, NCAA investigations, banned substances, eligibility disputes, and player-owner conflicts regularly dominate the sports page. Members of our team possess legal backgrounds as diverse as the issues they handle. Our clients have included an MLB MVP and an NFL Franchise Player, among other coaches and athletes from the Olympics, NCAA, NBA, NFL, MLB, PGA Tour and NASCAR. 

Our distinctive strengths include:

  • Coaches’ employment contracts
  • Employment and immigration issues, including O visas for athletes
  • NCAA compliance and disciplinary matters
  • Player contract negotiations
  • Player legal representation re business and personal affairs
  • Negotiation of apparel and product deals for athletes and universities
  • Title IX Training
  • Title IX Audits
  • Title IX, CLERY and related statutory compliance
  • Agent regulations
  • Marketing and advertising endeavors
  • Intellectual property protection
  • Privacy rights and protection of rights to name and licensing agreements
  • Collective bargaining agreements
  • Player disputes with agents and clubs
  • Domestic relations matters
  • Stadium construction contract negotiations
  • Professional sport franchise acquisitions and sales
  • Sporting event operation issues
  • Tax matters
  • Bankruptcies

Representative Matters 

  • Representation of coaches and athletic administrators in professional and personal affairs
  • Negotiation of coach and athletic administrator employment and endorsement agreements
  • Negotiation of product, game guarantee and commercial agreements
  • Representation of Universities and colleges in the negotiation of employment and commercial agreements
  • Represented current and former NFL players regarding injuries, including concussions
  • Provided counsel regarding tax and estate planning to athletes and agents
  • Represented clients in matters associated with alleged NCAA violations
  • Represented an Olympic athlete in immigration and permanent residency issues
  • Represented professional athletes in disputes with agents, and have represented agents in disputes with players
  • Represented agents in investigations by players associations
  • Represented PGA Tour players in disputes with sponsors
  • Represented professional athletes with domestic relations, criminal, league discipline (alleged use of banned substance), and financial issues (including bankruptcy)
  • Represented Major League Baseball player in litigation against Japanese baseball team
  • Represented the interests of prominent football coach in his capacity as an investor
  • Represented severely injured NCAA athlete in a dispute over insurance benefits under the NCAA catastrophic injury policy
  • Represented NCAA baseball player in obtaining release to play for another institution
  • Represented NCAA basketball player in eligibility dispute
  • Provide general counsel services to a minor league soccer team and the Virginia State Golf Association

Ethical Misconduct in Coaching

The recent news of athletic department recruitment scandals - accepting bribes to gain admissions using dedicated roster spots for non-athletes - and for the practice to so easily escape detection is diagnostic of a greater issue within the results-oriented world of collegiate athletics.[1] An environment conducive to ethical misconduct may exist where rules are stretched, improprieties are overlooked and whistleblowing only occurs at great personal risk, both for athletic department employees, as well as students.  Inadequate oversight of unethical misconduct can result in severe consequences, such as the recent and tragic death of a University of Maryland athlete.  In that case, an entire University Board was forced to functionally admit a major athletic program oversight.   Schools and universities must take steps now to ensure that oversight of ethical misconduct, particularly in the athletic department, is being handled appropriately.

Intercollegiate Athletics and Collective Bargaining Agreements

For close to a century, intercollegiate athletics under the umbrella of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (the “NCAA”) has operated under the amateurism model, as propagated by the courts, which have consistently held that athletes are students and not employees of the institutions of higher education in which they matriculate.  Thus the origin of the term “student-athlete”, which is a term of art denoting amateurism.  This determination by the courts, although arguably flawed in its reasoning, has provided substantial economic advantages to many of the NCAA member institutions as they generate large amounts of revenue from ticket sales, sponsorships, marketing and sales, lucrative television contracts, merchandising and licensing and sales of paraphernalia to fans with great affinities for their university athletic teams.

Is the Playing Field Level?

The issue of gender equality in sports is front and center.  While not a new issue, recent lawsuits are challenging the practice of paying female athletes substantially less for similar work than male athletes. 

In 2017, the history of gender inequity in sports was highlighted in the motion picture, Battle of the Sexes.  The film depicted the epic, nationally televised, 1973 tennis match between female tennis star Billie Jean King and her male counterpart Bobby Riggs, portrayed as a male chauvinist.  King was the first female tennis player to win over $100,000 in a year prior to this epic match.  The tennis match between these players sent an important message that women deserved the same amount of prize money and respect as males.  As set forth in this article, this message continues to resonate today in sports.

Whiteford Expands Sports Law Practice with Addition of Ricky Lefft

Whiteford Taylor & Preston announced today that Joseph R. “Ricky” Lefft has joined the firm.  A leading sports law attorney, Mr. Lefft has over 30 years of experience advising professional athletes, coaches and athletic administrators on their professional and personal business matters.

Leading Litigators Join Whiteford, Taylor & Preston in New Richmond Office

Whiteford Taylor & Preston announced today that preeminent Richmond-based litigators Vernon E. Inge, Jr., and Corey Simpson Booker have joined the firm, resident in its new Richmond office.  Mr. Inge is a commercial litigation, bankruptcy and sports law attorney with a national profile.  Ms. Booker is a highly experienced commercial and bankruptcy litigator.  The Richmond office is the firm’s sixteenth and, along with offices in Northern Virginia and Roanoke, its third in Virginia.