Sports in the Courts: The Role of Sports References in Judicial Opinions

Posted: 26 Jul 2009 Last revised: 23 Feb 2010

Douglas E. Abrams

University of Missouri School of Law

Date Written: July 23, 2009

Abstract

In cases with no claims or defenses concerning sports, the Supreme Court and lower federal and state courts frequently publish opinions that draw analogies to the rules or terminology of sports familiar to broad segments of the American people. Sports analogies can help the court explain factual or legal points because today’s generation, including the lawyers and litigants who comprise the prime audience for written opinions, grew into adulthood amid an unprecedented saturation of professional and amateur sports in the broadcast and print media, and more recently on the Internet.

This article surveys the broad array of sports whose references now lace written judicial opinions, and then discusses the use and misuse of these references. Sports references can help courts explain and resolve complexity, but may also implicate Rule 1.3 of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct by detracting unacceptably from the prestige indispensable to the judicial role. A sports reference remains incompatible with judging when a reasonable reader would conclude that the court invoked it primarily for the judge’s personal pleasure and not to facilitate the communication of ideas.

Keywords: sports, sports references, sports analogies, Rule 1.3

Suggested Citation

Abrams, Douglas E., Sports in the Courts: The Role of Sports References in Judicial Opinions (July 23, 2009). Villanova Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2010; University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-19. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1438305

Douglas E. Abrams (Contact Author)

University of Missouri School of Law ( email )

Missouri Avenue & Conley Avenue
Columbia, MO 65211
United States
573-882-0307 (Phone)

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