In a webinar hosted by the Center for the Study of Capitalism at Wake Forest University, sports attorney and former NCAA investigator Tim Nevius; Ellen Zavian, the first female agent/lawyer in the NFL; and Winston & Strawn Co-Executive Chairman and Co-chair of the Antitrust/Competition and Sports Law practice, Jeffrey Kessler, explore what will change legally, morally and financially as Covid-19 and a new era of social justice reform imparts permanent changes to the role of sports in America.
The impact of Covid-19 on professional and college sports extends far beyond the many millions of dollars of lost revenue and employment that sports teams generate. Team owners, institutions of higher education, players, and fans are grappling with longstanding issues involving the players’ health and safety, their freedom as individuals, their interest in advocating for social change, and their roles as entrepreneurs in a capitalist system. The decision of certain athletic conferences to move forward with football this fall despite the dangers of Covid-19 raises serious questions about colleges’ commitment to the health and safety of their student-athletes. Shouldn’t student-athletes being put at risk have the opportunity to earn something approaching what they’re worth? Moreover, the NCAA is contemplating rule changes to allow college athletes NIL rights after pressure from state and federal lawmakers. This supports college players profiting from their name, image and likeness, and from social media and personal appearances. They can do this by working with third-party agents or by being entrepreneurs and starting a business. Many college players who transition into professional sports will come with well-established brands and well-known interests such as social issues. Coupled with a growing acceptance of professional athletes sharing their views about social issues during games, we can expect real changes to the face of sporting events as we know them and the dynamic between owners, players, and fans. How should athletes balance freedom of speech and the freedom to participate in markets with their roles as teammates and heroes to many sports fans? What’s legally, morally, and financially in store for sports leagues, team owners, and institutions of higher education as Covid-19 and a new era of social justice reform imparts permanent changes to role of sports in America?