Sports in the Courts: The Role of Sports References in Judicial Opinions
Douglas E. Abrams
University of Missouri School of Law
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
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
Date posted: July 26, 2009 ; Last revised: February 23, 2010