As is so often the case, as we confront the coronavirus pandemic, the sports world is a microcosm of society at large. Like so much of business and industry, sports at all levels have come to a screeching halt. The NBA, NHL and MLB have all gone on hiatus. The NFL has curtailed normal preparation for the draft, and the NCAA cancelled its most popular and lucrative showcase, the Final Four. The Masters has been rescheduled for the fall, as has the Kentucky Derby. Several countries said they would not send teams to the 2020 Olympics and the IOC finally decided to delay the Olympic Games until 2021.
Television networks are clamoring for programming as there are no live events, which consequently has had a huge effect on advertising revenue. Furthermore, the ramifications go beyond the players and leagues. Stadium workers, hotel employees, vendors and team employees have all been affected by the suspension of the sports industry.
We are, therefore, forced to look at many issues, although not unique to sports, that are present as the sports world deals with the pandemic. For instance:
I wish we knew the answers to these questions or could find a reasonable solution to get us to the finish line of COVID-19. The pandemic landscape changes every day. New issues come up and there are new solutions discussed. Like other industries, the sports world has struggled with many of these questions.
Several teams and venues backtracked after making widely criticized initial decisions not to pay employees. Several teams and players have agreed to fund payment to those workers, once again proving the impact that these visible teams and athletes can make. Some coaches have recorded PSA messages about recommendations to slow to spread the coronavirus. The NCAA overruled Clemson and allowed its star quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, and his girlfriend to use Lawrence’s name, image and likeness to assist those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nations, governing bodies, leagues, teams, and athletes are all wrestling with these issues. Answers are unknown and will continue to evolve. The best advice is to listen to the health professionals as we ride out this COVID-19 storm together.
Bob Wallace is the chair of Thompson Coburn’s Sports Law Group.
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