- Sports Justice: The Law and the Business of Sports
The overwhelming majority of Americans hold a dim view of lawyers and judicial bodies. The results of a February 2010 Harris Poll showed that only 24 percent of U.S. citizens possessed a great deal of confidence in the nation’s courts and legal justice system; worse still, only 13 percent held equal degrees of confidence in the leaders of the country’s law firms.1 In a noteworthy expression of these sentiments, Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg wrote in his 1920 poem “The Lawyers Knows Too Much”:
Why is there always a secret singing When a lawyer cashes in? Why does a hearse horse snicker Hauling a lawyer away?2
While the animosity represented in these words developed consequent to real problems in the American legal system, it should be remembered that the law has also exerted a profoundly positive influence on many of the nation’s institutions—including the sports that its citizens play and watch. To take but a few examples: the seminal 1954 case Brown vs. Board of Education set a path to integrated school playgrounds and athletic teams; Title [End Page 333] IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 made a vast assortment of athletic opportunities available to women for the first time; and a series of anti-trust cases during the twentieth century gave professional athletes a degree of freedom in determining the course of their careers.
Given the obvious importance of these developments, it seems remarkable that scholars have traditionally paid relatively little attention to the legal history of American sport and physical activity.3 Happily, the literature on the subject has undergone a process of expansion in recent years—even if only a moderate one. I hope that this growth will accelerate in the near future; in her stimulating John R. Betts Address at the 2011 annual conference of the North American Society for Sport History, Sarah K. Fields certainly gave us a blueprint for doing so.4 And as we begin the process of learning how to do legal research, it makes considerable sense to flatten our learning curve by engaging with scholars who have actual legal training—many of whom can be found in law schools located near our departments on campus.
Consequent to these considerations, it was with considerable interest that I sat down to read Northeastern University law professor Roger I. Abrams’ 2010 book, Sports Justice: The Law and Business of Sports. With each chapter serving as a case study on a particular area of law, Abrams provides an overview of the handful of legal issues that have most influenced American athletics. Included among these are particularly strong sections on Title IX, the rights of the disabled in sport, and the impact of anti-trust law on professional sport leagues. That said, academic historians should not expect a rigorous work of history supported by extensive (or, in truth, any) archival evidence when they open Sports Justice.
Even so, the book possesses several positive characteristics. Its relative brevity (228 pages) will appeal to undergraduate students–—a group that appears increasingly averse to lengthy reading assignments. It should be noted on this point as well that Abrams’ writing comes across as downright lively compared to the tedious prose found in most legal texts. At the same time, Abrams treats his subject matter with some complexity; rather than delineating a narrow set of judicial disputes, Sports Justice uses carefully rendered examples to show how and why the relationship between sport and the law affects real people with real problems.
The book, in short, serves a useful purpose.
Note: The editorial team is seeking potential book reviewers. Anyone interested please register their areas of expertise with Jerry Gems at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Harris Poll, “Virtually No Change in Annual Harris Poll Confidence Index from Last Year,” 9 March 2010, <http://www.harrisinteractive.com/Insights/HarrisVault.aspx> [1 June 2012].
2. Carl Sandburg, “The...