Legal and Ethical Dimensions of Sport Public Relations
SPORT PUBLIC RELATIONS, pp. 299-316, C. Stoldt, S. Dittmore, and S. Branvold, eds., Human Kinetics, 2012
18 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2012
Date Written: February 3, 2012
The legal dimension of sport public relations grows in importance and influence each year. The process of maintaining favorable relations between a sport organization and its public often involves balancing the marketing effects of communication with the legal ramifications of both the topic in question and the method of communication itself. Closely tied to the legal dimension of sport public relations are the ethical ramifications of decision making and the process of relating those decisions to an organization’s public. Not all legally sound decisions are ethical, and not all ethical decisions are legal. Sport organizations must examine their actions from an ethical perspective because of the importance of sport in the larger societal framework.
Consider the following example. NCAA Division I football and men’s basketball student-athletes are featured in video games licensed through the NCAA Collegiate Licensing Company and produced by game producer Electronic Arts in recent times, as well as by other companies in the past. This practice has been the object of considerable criticism and analysis, and class action suits were brought against it in the federal courts of California in 2009 and 2010 (Kaburakis et al., 2009).
The most recent and prominent of these lawsuits was filed by Sam Keller, a former quarterback for Nebraska and Arizona State, against the NCAA, the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), and Electronic Arts. The suit alleged that the NCAA, in conjunction with EA and the CLC, purposefully circumvented the prohibition on using student-athlete names by allowing users to modify and download rosters from an EA-hosted online server. Those rosters are easily adapted to the real names of the players, and most “real” players have a digital analogue present in the game (Kaburakis et al., 2009).
As with any intellectual property situation, several issues are at work. On the one hand are the fundamental intellectual property rights of student-athletes, which frequently conflict with those of their institutions and the NCAA, and on the other is the constitutionally recognized freedom of expression, including commercial speech, that communication professionals and industry executives need to be aware of and incorporate in their communications and strategic planning.
At the same time, major corporations and athletics associations or governing bodies need to maintain the balancing act between a positive public image measure against practical and mostly financial considerations. Answers to the difficult questions posed by such conflicts often are provided by either black letter law or, in most contemporary situations, by recent case precedent, as well as through policy solutions that governing bodies reach after considerable membership and constituent input leading to consensus (Kaburakis et al., 2009).
Keywords: FERPA, Intellectual Property, libel and slander, Freedom of Information Act, code of ethics, media rights
JEL Classification: K00, K10, K12, K19, K20, K29, K30, K39, K40, K41, K42, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation