Throughout history, sports have consistently shed light on issues of justice and fair play in society. Roger Abrams, the Richardson Professor of Law at Northeastern University and an expert in sports law, chronicles some of the most influential cases, controversies and characters of the last century in which law and the right to participate in sports have converged in his new book, Sports Justice: The Law and the Business of Sports. Abrams, the former law dean and a salary arbitrator for Major League Baseball, explores a wide range of legal issues facing athletes and sports in general—including the rights of the disabled, violence on the field, race and free agency.
Was there one case in particular that inspired you to write this book?
Casey Martin’s suit against the PGA Tour has always generated a lively discussion in my sports law course, and I wanted to find out more about how professional golf tours are organized and how terrific young golfers become eligible for the Tour. Martin was physically disabled but, with the aid of a golf cart, he was able to play at the professional level. His suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, where his right to participate using a golf cart was upheld. His personal story as a devout Christian who learned about the hypocrisy of some Supreme Court justices was particularly compelling.
Have any of the cases detailed in your book brought significant change in our society?
I think the suit brought by the women gymnasts at Brown University under Title IX has fundamentally changed college athletics. Gender equity is now the law and the practice across the nation and those brave young women (with the help of some terrific lawyers) made it happen.
Why do you think sports make for such fascinating legal tales?
There is no easy way to explain the hold sports has on our psyche and everyday lives, but it is something more than a mere diversion. Playing sports can be beautiful, fun and therapeutic. Watching others compete in sports can also be enjoyable, especially when those athletes are among the very best at their game. We can relate to their stories—to their aspirations and to their accomplishments—because we have all played sports. We root for them both on the field and off.
Are there any developments in sports that you foresee as major legal issues in the near future?
One nice thing about teaching and writing in the field of sports is that the next major legal issue is as close as tomorrow’s newspaper. The owners of the Red Sox just purchased the Liverpool football club in the English Premier League. Brett Favre has been accused of sexual harassment. Next year, both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens face legal issues in the criminal courts. And, of course, collective bargaining agreements in both professional football and basketball are soon to expire. All will produce legal issues that might require another book. That is more than enough for now.