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Should Sports Teams Sanction Athletes for Off-the-Field Conduct? - Sports and Entertainment Law News

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Sports and Entertainment Law News


Posted on: Mar 9, 2015

By Wesley A. Zirkle, Just Marketing, Inc. (JMI)

The Delaware Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday, March 5 that it will not prosecute NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch in relation to allegations of domestic abuse. However, Busch remains suspended by NASCAR. This begs the question of whether NASCAR, or any professional sports team for that matter, should initiate sanctions for “off-the-field” conduct. And, if a professional sports league initiates disciplinary action for what turns out to be unsubstantiated claims, why wouldn’t it immediately lift the disciplinary action when law enforcement officials decline to prosecute?

Should sports leagues involve themselves in off-the-field conduct? And doesn’t doing so compel leagues to create an entire criminal judicial system in order to dispense justice fairly? One need look no further than the “2014 that Roger Goodell would rather forget” to realize that connecting off-the-field conduct to league penalties results in an unmanageable slippery slope.

And back to Busch: Does Stewart-Haas have a civil cause of action against NASCAR if it fails to immediately reinstate Busch and make him eligible for the Chase? Big money surely hinges on whether a driver of Busch’s unquestionable talent (albeit questionable behavior) can compete for victories. (Kurt Busch earned over $4 million in 2014 from prize winnings alone, and teams usually get a substantial piece of that.) 

Because of the unique nature of motorsports, there is an external policing mechanism which allows NASCAR to defer judgment: the sponsors. The team’s sponsors paid for and expected Busch to run a full season. If Busch really has no place on a NASCAR team, then the sponsors who fund Stewart-Haas Racing would surely say so and invoke the morals and termination clauses which are surely in the sponsorship agreements. 

If the sponsors are willing to stick by Busch, why not let him drive?

For more about this issue, check out this article.

If you're interested in more on motorsports, don't miss The Racing Attorneys Conference (TRAC) in Indy on April 14-15! More information can be found here.

This post was written by Wesley A. Zirkle of JMI. If you would like to submit content or write an article for the Sports & Entertainment Law Section page, please email Rachel Beachy at rbeachy@indybar.org.

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