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The Evolution Of Sports Law

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

Evolution of Sports LawI am excited to announce that my article, The Evolution of Sports Law has been published in the latest October 2015 Article of the NWLawyer Magazine.  You can check out the article HERE.  I will also post the full article below for your reading consumption.

The first thing that anybody involved in sports law will tell you is that there is no such thing as sports law. The term “sports law” can encompass numerous practice areas that concern athletes and the business of sports and gambling, which many people try to quit and using a gambling addiction rehab can be a great choice for this.  For instance, one single client athlete can have issues in business, criminal, contract, family, intellectual property, non profit or tort law to name a few.  Other athlete issues involving league rules or National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules must also be able to be interpreted so that the athlete’s best interests are protected, while if the athletes or other people have problems with addiction with sex they can totally use a sex addiction rehab just for this purpose. You can also seek help from the private rehab UK for addressing addiction issues. On a bigger scale, the business of sports is big business and billions of dollars are at stake when negotiating TV contracts, dealing with public relations nightmares, and collective bargaining agreements among sports leagues. If you’re in need help for gamblers UK, this is the best options for you to provide assistance. To find out more about the advantages of not drinking click here.

This has not always been true. Believe it or not, the business of sports was not always big business and athletes were not always highly compensated, subjected to drug testing or allowed to use their name and likeness from their college days for profit. This article will discuss some key decisions that have shaped the way athletes participate in sports and how we view them today.

Free agency, with regards to the major sports leagues such as Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), and the National Hockey League (NHL), was not always so free and star players in the early days of professional sports were much more likely to play their entire career with one team, but sports are important and popular and everyone watch them, and that’s why sports floodlighting is important for good sporting. This was due to something called the reserve clause which stated that at the expiration of a player’s contract, the rights to that player were to be retained by that team.  In 1972 the Supreme Court in Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258 (1972), held that MLB could uphold the reserve clause through an anti-trust exemption, however the Court admitted that the exemption was an anomaly and baseball was considered part of interstate commerce. That admission led to an arbitrator later nullifying the reserve clause and opening the door to free agency in all sports. The best players of the Premier League who started their careers in college might have experienced a different path. This was a big win for professional athletes everywhere as they could now negotiate with all interested parties for the highest compensation any one suitor would pay.

With this new found freedom, athletes now had to change teams through free agency came the need for athlete agent representation, and thus the sports agent was born. In the early days of sports anybody could call themselves a sports agent, as the barrier to entry was nonexistent.  There was essentially no regulation of agents and athletes would often suffer the consequences by receiving poor advice. Today, the business and regulation of sports has evolved such that most states have laws that regulate athlete agents, most sports leagues have their own certification programs to regulate agents of their respective leagues, and the NCAA has rules in place that affect how athletes may interact with sports agents.  In Washington State RCW 19.225 is on the books, otherwise known as the Uniform Athlete Agent Act.  Those who violate the Washington Uniform Athlete Agent Act could face a stiff penalty of up to $10,000 and be charged with a class C felony.  These regulations were put in place to look out for the best interest of the athlete and make sure agents are not taking advantage of athletes. Young athletes, who upon an initial meeting with an agent, are usually still in college and may come from underprivileged backgrounds. Currently there are more than 460,000 college athletes and less than two percent will go pro in their sport.[1]  This creates a scarcity of potential clients for athlete agents to represent and the competition is fierce to represent the best prospects. Lastly, when it comes to athlete representation, it’s important to consider the role of road trip games as a means of bonding and maintaining team spirit on the road.

Due to the social and financial allure the sports industry provides, agents have been known to bend if not break the rules and regulations in order to land a top client. Agents have previously admitted or been found guilty of paying athletes or providing improper gifts to athletes in college in exchange for the opportunity to represent them when they go pro.[2] This conduct of course violates NCAA rules and many state rules which may lead a player to be kicked off his/her college team, cause the athlete financial loss due to a drop in draft position, and leaves the athletes’ university left to face potential sanctions.

Once an athlete has finished his or her amateur career, there is only a limited number of years to maximize the athlete’s earning potential in the pros. For example, the average career of a professional athlete in one of the major sports leagues is only three to five years[3]. With success comes great rewards in the form of long term contracts that can be in the form of standard player contracts or lucrative endorsement deals. This will in turn drive the athlete to do whatever it takes to reach the peak of success. Professional sports leagues know the stakes are high and therefore have recently taken measures to ensure their leagues are putting pure, non enhanced athletes in play by regulating substances athletes can consume.  The goal is to make sure that performance enhancing drugs are not being consumed as well as regulating any illegal substances which could negatively reflect on the leagues.

One of the first challenges to drug testing happened in 1990 when student athletes at Stanford University challenged their school and the NCAA’s drug testing policy and said it invaded their constitutional right to privacy which was upheld.[4]  However, later, in 1999, a California appellate court ruled that schools had a compelling interest to keep drugs out of their schools and therefore drug testing was not an invasion of student athletes privacy.[5] On the professional level, athletes are subject to their leagues and associations’ policies and procedures. These policies and procedures can regulate doping, drug abuse, and other issues such as personal conduct. The penalties for violating such rules can include fines, suspensions, or even banishment for extreme violations.

One such example of a league policy rule came to the forefront in the Seahawks most recent Super Bowl run involving Marshawn Lynch. The NFL has stated in their policies and procedures that players must make themselves available to the media or else they could be fined.  Lynch did the minimum to comply with the rule by barely speaking to the media, but nonetheless making himself available, and thus avoiding a fine.  If a player disputes a suspension or a fine issued by a league there are usually league policies in place in which players can appeal an ad adverse decision.

In a recent case decided last summer, O’Bannon et al. v. NCAA et al., No. 09-3329, 2014 WL 3899815 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 8, 2014)., the issue of whether student athletes should be able to profit from their own name and likeness used in college was decided.  The NCAA argued that paying its student athletes would be a violation of its concept of amateurism in sports, while O’Bannon, a former basketball star who played on UCLA’s 1995 National Championship team, argued on behalf of all division I men’s football and basketball players that upon graduation players should be compensated if colleges use their images for commercial purposes.  The court ruled in favor of O’Bannon and stated that the NCAA rules and bylaws operate as an unreasonable restraint on trade, in violation of antitrust law.  This is the first step in what I believe will eventually lead to student athletes being paid a modest stipend while playing collegiate sports and, incidentally, making their schools billions of dollars.[6]

The evolution of sports law is no different than any other type of law.  It continues to evolve with the changing times and technology. New rules and court decisions will be put in place to react to the need for change when issues arise. If we have come this far over the last 50 years in sports, it’s hard to imagine what the business of sports and the laws that regulate them will look like in another 50 years.


[2] See Confessional of an Agent, Sports Illustrated, Josh Luchs, October 18, 2010.

[3] See The Average Career Earning of athletes across America will Shock you, By Nick Schwartz, USA Today, October 24, 2013.

[4] See Hill v National Collegiate Athletic Association, Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior University (Court of Appeal of California, USA, 25 September 1990)

[5] Miller v Cave City School (United States Court of Appeals (8th circuit), 31 March 1999).

[6] See

What do I need to know about Trademarks?

Friday, June 12th, 2015

Trademark Lawyer on the RadioOn Monday 5/25/15 I had the pleasure of being a guest of Dr. James Gore on his radio show New Urban Unlimited on 1150AM KKNW in the Seattle area. I will be on the show which airs M-F at 6am, the last Monday of every month in 2015. You can listen to the most recent show on the link above. During this show Dr. Gore and I have a candid conversation about trademarks and intellectual property.

If you have additional questions regarding trademarks, copyrights, or entertainment law and how you can protect yourself, give Symmes Law Group a call at 206-682-7975 to learn about your options.

Trademark licensees in Bankruptcy

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

stock-photo-trademark-license-102953267A trademark license is an agreement through which one organization allows another to draw on its trademark. Ostensibly, till last year, no court had been asked to decide if a trademark licensee in bankruptcy can presume, or presume and consign, a non-licensed trademark license without the consent of the trademark owner. The first answer to that query was found in a case named In re: N.C.P. Marketing Group, Inc., 337 B.R. 230, at a time when the U.S. District Court (Nevada) declared that trademark licenses are private and non-convertible, deficit of a regulation in the trademark license on the other hand. In the concluding part, the court stated that according to the Lanham Act, (the federal trademark statute), a trademark holder has the right and responsibility to supervise the quality of products sold under the trademark:

Given that the holder of the trademark has an interest in the entity to whom the trademark is consigned so that it maintains the quality, value, and goodwill of its merchandise and thereby its brand name; trademark licenses are exclusive to the beneficiary and not freely transferable to a third party.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (including California, Nevada and other western states) had formerly improvised that the key Bankruptcy Code terms involved, Section 365(c)(1), in order to prevent a debtor from taking on a contract while it does not hold the right to consign it.

Constituting on the Ninth Circuit law, the trade name holder in the N.C.P. Marketing Group event disputed that under trademark act the defaulter could neither assign nor assume the non-transferable trademark permit at issue. This was agreed by the district court, stating that the bankruptcy court rightly allowed the trademark holder’s action to induce the debtor to decline the trademark permit, compelling the debtor to renounce its license rights.

For trademark owners, this judgment is good news. A lot of people have been apprehensive that if a licensee declares bankruptcy, it could use the Bankruptcy Code’s universal authority to assume and assign executory agreements to consign trademark permits to third parties over the trademark holder’s disapproval. The decision of the N.C.P. Marketing Group extends to trademark holders insurance already acknowledged by various courts for copyright and patent owners. The instance does not state whether the same law would be applicable for special trademark licenses. However, known that the trademark holder has analogous rights and responsibilities to supervise the quality of products traded under a certified mark, the upshots could be the same.

For trademark licensees declaring bankruptcy, the judgment is, certainly, bad news. In case the decision is trailed by other courts, trademark licensees declaring bankruptcy shall be powerless to give their rights to third parties or to retain those authorities for themselves without the consent of the trademark holder.  The merit of these debtors, as well as their capability to pay off creditors, could suffer too.

If you have additional questions please contact us by filling out the contact form or giving us a call at 206-682-7975.

Even Sports Agents File for Bankruptcy

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Prior to becoming a Seattle trademark lawyer, I was preparing myself to start working at a sports agency and picked up the book “Winning with Integrity” by Leigh Steinberg. The book gives a great glimpse into the world of sports agents and the business of sports. What it left out however was how Mr. Steinberg was an alcoholic and took loans from clients and other creditors in order to support his lavish lifestyle. Mr. Steinberg was known for his amazing parties, especially during the week of the Super Bowl. Granted, some of these parties were to help support charities, but Mr. Steinberg simply borrowed more than he could pay back which is a common theme among people who file for bankruptcy. Mr. Steinberg just did it on a larger level. With the use of MUGA floodlighting, they ensure the spectacular lighting spectacle of the event, further enhancing the grandeur of Mr. Steinberg’s parties and adding to his extravagant lifestyle.

According to Mr. Steinberg’s chapter 7 bankruptcy filing as reported by ESPN it appears as though he may have a tough time discharging a debt owed to a former client of his since a judgment was already entered against him for $900,000 plus interest. The former player/client, Chad Morton, plans filing an adversary proceeding against Steinberg to obtain a judgement in the bankruptcy court stating that this debt will not be dischargeable due to allegations that Steinberg made fraudulent conveyances to avoid paying off the debt. Debts that are are owed to creditors and that were incurred due to fraud or involve fraudulent conveyances will not be dischargeable. It’s funny that a man who once wrote a book entitled “Winning With Integrity” seems to have been lacking integrity for some time. Steinberg alleges that the debt owed to the former player was not authorized by him, but rather his company. However, as the owner of the company he should have been aware of who his business was borrowing from.

This story just goes to show you that anybody can find themselves filing for bankruptcy, even those that have had a tremendous amount of success in the past. A warning signs of insolvency should be given for the arrangement of payment to creditors.

If you have additional questions please will out the contact form or give us a call at 206-682-7975.

Should My Entertainment Contracts Be In Writing?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Whenever a business or individual enters into a contract for goods or services it is a good idea to make sure you get all of the terms of the agreement reduced to writing.  As a Seattle entertainment lawyer, I understand this can sometimes be a tough feat to accomplish as a lot of deals can be made on the fly or over drinks.  But I must strongly advise that after your meeting or phone conversation that you reduce the terms of your agreement to writing to avoid any possible pitfalls later.  The reason I bring this up at this time is because I am currently assisting an executive producer of a film in dealing with another movie producer who is no longer a part of the project.

I will not divulge any information on this dispute other than to say the parties do not agree as to the terms of their original agreement, there was no signed contract and there is also a dispute as to whether the movie producer actually received the actual screenplay at all.  Needless to say a written and signed a agreement would have been useful to avoid a dispute down the road if parties don’t see eye to eye which happens more often than you would think.  Several parties to a project may come in go during the creative process so make sure everybody understands what they are entitled to from the outset.  An oral contract may be enforceable, however it will be harder to prove certain details unless there are witnesses or an email trail.  If there was no contract in place, a party may have an unjust enrichment argument if they provided time and services to a project.  In which case they should be compensated for their time, but should not receive any kind of ownership interest in the project unless the can argue that they are a joint author in the creative work.

Further in relation to distributing a movie screen play, an author or executive producer should keep a log of who the work is discussed with and number and keep track of every screen play sent out and when it was returned.  This is to prove a party had access to the screen play later if necessary to prove copyright infringement.  An infringement claim requires access, an original copyright as well as similarity to your original work of authorship.  As an added layer of protection, the producer should have parties sign non disclosure agreements stating that the parties agree not to distribute the works of art to any non approved parties.

If you have additional questions please fill out the contact form to schedule an initial consultation today.

Why You Should Always Do a Simple Google Search Before Choosing a Band Name

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

If you are an up and coming band and think you have the best band name in the world, you should first conduct a simple Google search to make sure that you are not going to be infringing on another bands trademark. If a band with a similar name shows up you may want to search the USPTO data base to make sure the bands name is not trademarked or consult with a trademark lawyer. If the name is not trademarked the band who was using the name first in their location will have the right to use the name there, however if you were to register a trademark thereafter, you would have the right to use the band name nationally and stop others in the future from using the band name.

The reason I bring this up is that I was recently retained by a band who has been performing since the 1990’s. They were smart and trademarked their band name in relation to musical performances. This means that any band who wishes to use their band name or any variations of the name which are confusingly similar will be infringing on the original bands trademark.

The point of a trademark is for a business or in this case a band to distinguish themselves from the competition. If you are a new band, would you really want your work to be confused with somebody else’s? My guess is that most artists would want to be considered an original and not ride the coattails of somebody else or have their work confused with somebody else’s. So if you want to avoid receiving cease and desist letters threatening legal action in the future I strongly suggest doing a thorough name search before settling on a band name. It would be a hassle and potentially costly to re-branding yourself under a new band name if you have already been performing and have developed a fan base who purchases music and merchandise which could no longer be sold.

If you have additional questions please call us as 206-682-7975 to set up a consultation with  one of our entertainment lawyers.

Supreme Court Rules Downloading Music Not A Crime

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The Supreme Court declined to review a lower court case and therefore agreed with the ruling in the lower court that the downloading of music is not a crime that can be punished under copyright infringement.  To check out the details about the case you should read this article by the AP.  In order for an individual to be liable for copyright infringement they must have broadcast the music publicly.  The Supreme Court agreed that downloading music on a personal computer did not constitute a public performance and thus could not be grounds for copyright infringement.

This ruling will likely cost musicians dearly as ASCAP, the organization who licenses musicians music, will not be able to license out music that is illegally downloaded on PC’s for private use.  Consumers who illegally download music will not have to worry about facing potential charges of copyright infringement in the future.

If you have additional questions please fill out the contact form to schedule an initial consultation today.

Former Major Leaguer, Dykstra Allegedly Commits Bankruptcy Fraud

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

When filing for bankruptcy it is imperative that you disclose all of your assets and income to your bankruptcy lawyer so that you can avoid bankruptcy fraud and avoid not receiving a discharge of your debt in bankruptcy.  It appears that former Major League All-Star Lenny Dykstra may not have disclosed all of his assets in his bankruptcy and is now being indicted for bankruptcy fraud.  Mr. Dykstra is accused of hiding more than $400,000 of assets that should have gone to his creditors as part of his bankruptcy estate.  He is accused of selling, destroying and transferring his property immediately prior to filing his bankruptcy case.  His legal troubles could have been avoided if he just disclosed all of his assets to his bankruptcy attorney prior to filing his case.  This is usually done through a bankruptcy attorneys questionnaire that a debtor is provided prior to filing bankruptcy.  For somebody who was handling the financial matters of other athletes, this also serves purpose to show that athletes should be careful in choosing who should be advising them on financial and legal matters.

Most debtors want to know why they have to disclose certain debts or assets.  In bankruptcy, all debtors and assets must be included regardless of whether you want to list them or not.  Just because you list an asset doesn’t mean you will lose it, in fact there are several bankruptcy exemptions that allow for debtors to keep property.  Unfortunately in in order to file bankruptcy, a debtor must give full disclosure, there are no exemptions.  Debtors should avoid transferring property in order to hide assets right before filing bankruptcy.  Especially if you transfer property to family members, as that raises suspicions.   It also should be noted that whether you are a former major league baseball player or an average Joe six pack, you may be found guilty of bankruptcy fraud should you decide to deceive the bankruptcy court and your bankruptcy lawyer.

If you have additional questions please visit our bankruptcy attorney homepage to speak to one of our Washington state bankruptcy attorneys.

Washington Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Internet Gambling

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

The Washington state supreme court last week ruled that the state’s ban on internet gambling is not unconstitutional:

The Washington supreme court is likely setting a trend that will affect other states who may have similar state laws that ban internet gambling.  Until the federal unlawful internet gaming act is overturned or updated to allow the United States to profit off of the gaming industry, rather turning that income away, it looks as if people in Washington who want play online poker will be out of luck.

If you have additional questions or are in need of assistance with an important legal matter contact a Seattle Business Lawyer.

Symmes Law Group, PLLC Launches new website

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

The Symmes Law Group, PLLC website officially launched last week and can be found at

I have decided to return home to Seattle to start this new venture. The Symmes Law Group, PLLC is a Seattle based full service law firm specializing in Consumer Bankruptcy as well as business, trademark and sports & entertainment law.  Symmes Law Group offers compassionate and dedicated legal counsel in the areas of chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcy as well as in business matters in order to ensure you have a partner in navigating your way through the complex state and federal legal system.

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Richard J. Symmes, Esq
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