COVID-19: Would NFL waivers stand-up in court? Maybe not says sports law attorney

Seth Everett

Los Angeles sports attorney Robert Hacker thinks the NFL’s reported plan to have fans sign waivers in order to attend NFL games this season would not hold up in court.

The sports insider attorney says that NFL teams would risk legal obstacles should some fans contract COVID-19 from attending NFL games, and whether or not they would be victorious in court is far from certain.

“From an analogy standpoint, people will say it's like the terms and conditions on the back of the tickets that says you accept the risk of foul balls at a baseball game and whatnot,” Hacker said in an exclusive interview with SportsIllustrated.com’s ‘Jets Country’ this weekend.

“I think it's a bad analogy because I think when you're dealing with a global pandemic like this, it's a little different.”

The Athletic reported last week that the NFL is putting together a list of potential protocols to have the season altogether. Scenarios have ranged from empty stadiums to partial attendance to nearly full buildings. Each scenario is likely to be based on the coronavirus data in that particular area.

Hacker is the President of the Sports Lawyers Association. He was Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs for FOX Sports for 18 years where he worked on rights agreements for the NFL, MLB, and NASCAR.   

“Go ahead and sign them because nobody's going to be able to enforce them,” Hacker said. “When you have a known risk of this pandemic, which is known in the broadest of senses since we actually know so little about it. I just don't see how it's possibly enforceable and you shouldn't expose fans to it because it's an emotional thing. I want to see my team.”

For the New York Jets, it is still unknown whether the NFL pre-season games will be canceled or if the regular season will be impacted by COVID-19. The Jets are hopeful not only that they can play, but that some fans can attend home games at MetLife Stadium because of the success in handling the coronavirus that New Jersey has had. With the stark contrast of that success in flattening the curve to states like Florida, Arizona, and Texas where there has been a spike in recent weeks, it muddies the scenario.

Hacker said it was too soon to predict just how this 2020 NFL season would play out.