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Reviewed by:
  • Game Faces: Sport Celebrity and the Laws of Reputation ed. by Sarah K. Fields
  • Jeffrey D. Gonda
Fields, Sarah K. Game Faces: Sport Celebrity and the Laws of Reputation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016. Pp. 216. $24.95, pb.

In a world of twenty-four-hour sports networks, multibillion dollar leagues, social media, and seemingly endless advertising, the men and women who are today's sports stars have a tremendous amount of public exposure. That fame has increasingly become a commodity all its own, one that companies, broadcasters, schools, sports franchises, and the athletes themselves often hope to translate into further attention and—perhaps—fortune. Sarah K. Fields shows in her intriguing new work how sports figures have tried to assert control over this public identity through various legal claims over the past fifty years. Game Faces explores the uneven results of these efforts, tracing the histories of six cases where athletes and coaches turned to the courts to contest their portrayal by others or the use of their name and image for profit. As scholars continue to mine the rich intersections of sports with politics, culture, business, and law in American history, Fields offers a useful introduction to an underappreciated arena of tension where the growing profitability and celebrity of professional sports collided with the laws of reputation.

Fields begins the text with a cursory overview of the kinds of rights claims involved in her selected case studies. She highlights in particular the complicated relationship between First Amendment protections and the legal traditions surrounding defamation and the concept of privacy. The fame of popular sports figures often thrusts individuals into the murky nexus of these rights, with inconsistent results a seemingly inevitable by-product. Fields does admirable work in this first chapter and throughout the text distilling the complexities of these theories and interpretations for nonspecialists. The remaining chapters each show an example of how the fundamental struggle for private control of a public image took shape and proceeded through adjudication. Spanning a variety of jurisdictions, an assortment of legal arguments, and five decades of history, the half-dozen lawsuits at the heart of Game Faces do not form a single coherent narrative, but instead reveal something of the uncertainty and frustratingly unstable nature of how these conflicting legal protections are applied and understood.

Drawing primarily from court records and press accounts, the chapters all follow a similar arc by briefly introducing the case under consideration, profiling the parties involved [End Page 104] on both sides of the suit, and then detailing their respective legal claims and the results and consequences of the proceedings. Although this structure becomes a bit formulaic at times, Fields uses it to provide a good balance of legal theory and case history without losing sight of the people involved. The cases include familiar names like golfer Tiger Woods, legendary quarterback Joe Montana, and Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, alongside lesser-known figures like hockey player Tony Twist, former University of Georgia football coach Wally Butts, and baseball integration pioneer Don Newcombe. These individuals battled against an assortment of newspapers, advertisers, artists, and corporations and achieved a mixed record of success in their pleadings.

As Fields points out, their legal challenges typically hinged on one of two main themes: protesting the use of their image by others for profit or disputing the substance of a public depiction as a way to "restore or protect their honor, dignity, and self-image" (17). Sorting through claims that ranged from the relatively mundane to the deeply personal, Fields keeps a constant eye on the broader questions of identity and rights that were at stake in this hodgepodge of cases.

One area where the text would have benefitted from greater clarity and discussion, however, is in the choice of the featured suits. While many of Fields's analyses are refreshingly transparent and thoughtful, there is not a particularly satisfying explanation of why this group of cases might afford a uniquely compelling perspective on these issues. If anything, the breadth of subjects and a thirty-year gap between the first two examples from the 1960s and the subsequent cases from the 1990s make the potential connections...


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pp. 104-105
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