There is usually a downer moment when the law hits the sports headlines. Such was the case in most of the big sports law related moments of 2012. How big of a player was the law in sports in 2012? As this list will remind you, the law interjected itself in multiple stories of the games we follow. This list, unlike David Letterman's nightly roll call, is presented in no particular order and there is no big crescendo at the end. Further, like all year-end lists, opinions should and will vary on the topics included. I looked largely to the legal impact and newsworthiness of the sports law events that occurred throughout the year.

Top Ten Sports Law Stories Of 2012 Slideshow


NHL Lockout

The hockey work stoppage saga is a legal dance we have seen before from lockout to union dissolution. This is the fourth NHL work stoppage since 1991. Even fringe fans miss the increasingly popular Winter Classic, which has become a New Year's Day tradition.


Penn State

The legal activity in this matter continues with highly public activities in criminal and civil courts. The latest is the action filed by Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania against the NCAA questioning the authority of the NCAA to impose the heavy sanctions against Penn State.



Sports-related injuries can sometimes lead to litigation, even in sports where there is an inherent risk of some sort of injury. The cases and arguments related to head trauma in football continued to build this year. There are still multiple actions and venues so the courts will play a key role in sorting through this complex issue.


College Conference Realignments

The legal actions here are just beginning to percolate, but there could well be many on the way. Rutgers, for example, has filed an action against the Big East Conference regarding the payment of an exit fee. At the heart of these actions and potential actions is money coupled with a bit of musical chairs being played by schools seeking to be affiliated with the conference with the best media rights deal when the music stops.


Lance Armstrong

This long running saga ended, so it appears, with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency successfully setting forth its case against Armstrong followed by his decision not to present a defense. In 2013 we'll see if the Department of Justice joins the federal whistle-blowing case filed by Armstrong's former teammate Floyd Landis. The allegation there is that Armstrong's team used tax dollars to pay for the doping scheme.


NFL Replacement Referees

This is the other labor matter, along with the NHL, to make the list. Here we saw the NFL use the replacement strategy in its effort to reach a labor agreement with the game day referees. What we saw too was the power of public opinion when the calls by some of these referees became the news. With a nod to public pressure, the two sides came to an agreement.


Oscar Pistorius

The legal battle waged by Pistorius led to a unique double in the Olympics and Paralympic Games in London in 2012. Pistorius battled successfully over the years for the right to compete at the highest levels while his prosthetics and any perceived advantage they provided were scrutinized.


NFL Bountygate

The original sanctions imposed by Commissioner Roger Goodell were appealed through NFL internal processes including a cameo by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue to sort through the matters. The courts will continue to be involved in these issues in 2013 including a defamation action filed by sanctioned player Jonathan Vilma against Goodell.


Augusta National Admits Female Members

Private country clubs have an awkward presence in sports, the enterprise we like to think about as the great societal space for equal opportunity. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier, Darla Moore broke a barrier that remains of interest because there is little the law can do to compel truly private clubs to admit members it does not desire. Augusta National admitted them as the first females on their membership rolls.


Dallas Cowboys Tragedy

Criminal actions involving athletes occur every year. This year the alcohol-related death of Dallas Cowboys player Jerry Brown with teammate Josh Brent behind the wheel was exceptional. No matter the final outcome in the courts, this case exemplifies that there are some matters where the law cannot step in and make all of the parties whole once the wrong occurs.

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-- Kenneth L. Shropshire is the David W. Hauck Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Faculty Director of its Wharton Sports Business Initiative. He joined the Wharton faculty in 1986 and specializes in sports business and law, sports and social impact, and negotiations. He also practices law as Special Counsel at the global law firm Duane Morris LLP. His works include the foundational books, In Black and White: Race and Sports in America, The Business of Sports and The Business of Sports Agents. He has consulted for the NCAA, National Football League, the United States Olympic Committee and others.

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