Amateur and professional athletes must comply with state and federal laws that exist independent of the rules established by the athletic association in which they are members. Nonetheless, many professional and amateur athletes are surprised to learn of the extent to which they must understand the intricacies of civil and criminal law if they want to stay out of court. For example, professional athletes are required to pay income tax to every state in which they appear to play a game, and not just to the state in which their teams play home games. Amateur athletes may be taxed on the funds they receive for athletic scholarships when those funds exceed the cost of tuition, room, board, and necessary supplies.
Many amateur and professional athletes are also surprised to learn that they can be held civilly and criminally liable for injuries they inflict on other athletes during competition, even in contact sports such as hockey and football. Contact-sport athletes consent to some contact as part of the game and assume the risk for injuries that are sustained during the normal and ordinary course of an athletic contest. But under the common law, no athlete assumes the risk for injuries that result from the reckless or intentional misconduct of another athlete. Depending on the laws of the state in which an injury is inflicted, the blameworthiness of the misconduct, and the severity of the injury, athletes who recklessly or intentionally injure competitors during an athletic contest may be prosecuted in criminal court or sued in civil court for battery, assault, or other such related unlawful acts. A minority of jurisdictions allow athletes to recover for injuries sustained from the negligent conduct of competitors.
In some cases academic institutions may be held liable for injuries suffered by athletes. As a general rule, coaches, trainers, and referees must exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injuries to athletes, and under no circumstances may a school employee encourage athletes to injure opponents or competitors. If a school employee fails to exercise the degree of care that is reasonable under the circumstances, the school itself may be held vicariously liable under the doctrine of respondent superior, which makes principals liable for the wrongful acts of their agents, when those acts are committed in the ordinary course and scope of the agent’s authority.
Because the relationship between the law and amateur and professional athletes can be complicated, many colleges, universities, and pro sports franchises require athletes to attend classes that introduce them to a variety of legal issues. Some of these classes are geared solely toward male athletes. Given the number of highly publicized cases in which male athletes have been accused of sexual assault and violence, these classes are intended to help male athletes avoid situations where they can get themselves into trouble.