The Modern Athlete: Protecting Your ‘Business’ From Lawsuits
By Attorney James Jones Jr.
Special to THELAW.TV
The modern professional athlete is both an athlete and a business. And both are in high demand. Not only are they expected to undergo intensive training to perform at the highest level, but they are also required to speak to the media, endure relentless criticism from “analysts” and fans without responding, shoot commercials in connection with endorsement deals, tend to social media accounts, manage business ventures, sign autographs, and make appearances at various events. And, of course, spend time with families and friends.
However, it is easy for today’s professional athlete to forget that they are a business as well as an athlete. Because they are a business, they have to conduct themselves like a business and think of themselves as the owner of their business. To accomplish this, the athlete has to think with a focus on protecting their business from potential lawsuits. Just as in the case of a business owner, where one lapse can result in irreparable damage to the business, an athlete must avoid a lapse in order to prevent damage to their business.
My firm recently helped a superstar from the NBA’s Miami Heat think like a business owner. A business owner would make sure that any transactions with third-party vendors are in writing to protect the business from future disputes and potential lawsuits. In this case, the player was scheduled to make an appearance at a venue for a gaming tournament during one of the Heat’s road games. However, there was a concern about the player’s protection from lawsuit in the event something unanticipated occurred at the venue while he was there. Prior to his appearance at the event, we spoke with the vendor’s representative and subsequently prepared a release of liability agreement on behalf of the player, which was signed by the vendor. The release of liability agreement protected the player from any potential harm, damage, or lawsuits arising out of his appearance at the venue. For example, if two patrons at the venue had been involved in an argument, which resulted in a fight and broken furniture stemming from the fight, then the liability agreement would have shielded the player from a lawsuit by the vendor against the player for the broken furniture. In essence, the effect of the liability agreement was to insulate the athlete’s “business” from harm from forces that were beyond his control. Fortunately, the event took place without incident. But nevertheless, the player’s “business” was protected.
Because professional athletes often appear at many events during the season and offseason and throughout their careers and beyond, we strongly urge athletes to think like a business owner by making sure that their business is protected well in advance of their scheduled appearances at a venue. A release of liability agreement is one way to ensure that they are protected.
The author, James Jones Jr., practice law in Miami, Florida.