June 01, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) Matt Mitten, a professor at Marquette University's law school, recently was named the next president of the Sports Lawyers Association, a 1,700-member organization for those who practice and teach sports law.

Sports law applies general law fields - labor, contract, tax and intellectual property, etc. - to the wide world of athletics. The lawyers who practice it are generally distinct from sports agents, and might serve as general counsel for a sports team or a personal lawyer for professional athletes.

Mitten's two-year term with the association begins next year. He sat down this week with The Associated Press to discuss current issues ranging from Donald Sterling, unionization efforts by college players and the increasing number of lawsuits tied to youth leagues and injuries.


Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, will battle in court over whether his recorded racist comments, which he says were taped without his knowledge, give the NBA the right to seize his team. His wife has reached an agreement to sell the Clippers for a record $2 billion, while Sterling's lawyers have filed a federal lawsuit against the league and Commissioner Adam Silver.

Mitten said Sterling could have a decent chance in court if he argues that the league was imposing an unfairly draconian punishment, Mitten said.

So what if the case drags on and Sterling, 80, dies before it's resolved? Very little might change, Mitten said.

''He could leave directions in his will appointing an executor to litigate the case to the fullest,'' Mitten said. ''So that wouldn't necessary resolve the issue.''

NBA owners will vote on whether to approve the team's sale next week.


A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board decided in March that Northwestern University football players can create the first college athletes' union in the nation.

Though that decision has been appealed to the full board in Washington, it created a national debate over whether NCAA athletes, who help generate millions of dollars in revenue for their universities, should be treated as employees.

Mitten noted, if upheld, the NLRB's ruling would apply only to private schools; public universities are subject to their own state's labor laws.

The Northwestern players raise legitimate issues, Mitten said, but unionizing might not be sufficient to address them. Plus, it could set up an imbalanced, unworkable system if some athletes can collectively bargain and others can't, he said.


With the ubiquity of sports media and an increased emphasis on youth sports, some kids have begun playing individual sports year-round instead of seasonally.

But doing so might expose kids to joint injuries that typically afflict older athletes, something that could lead to a flurry of lawsuits, Mitten said. Already, there have been lawsuits in which athletes and parents accuse coaches of overexerting the players, exposing them to injuries that might cost them scholarships.

''Even young athletes assume the inherent risk of injury of playing the sport. But yet coaches and sponsors of the sport, they've got a legal duty not to do anything to unreasonably increase the inherent risks of injury,'' he said. ''So there's where the legal issues come into play - where do you draw the line?''


Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.

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