By Mark Henricks
For sports attorneys, agents, business managers and others involved in the application of sports law, Sports Litigation Alert—a newsletter from Hackney Publications—provides a connection between theory and practice. For professors and instructors in sports management, sports law and related courses, Sports Litigation Alert provides much the same, but in a learning environment.
In college classrooms across the country, teachers have students subscribe with the goal of introducing them to the latest terminology, concepts, trends and cases. So far, those who combine current events with classroom instruction are pioneers. The development of Sports Litigation Alert as a teaching tool has a long ways to run. But even at this early stage, best practices have begun to emerge.
The synopses of recent case law provide Sports Litigation Alert’s primary pedagogical appeal. “It’s about keeping up with current cases,” says Steve McKelvey, associate professor and graduate program director in the Department of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts. “The law is changing all the time in sports law.” Currency carries particular weight, adds Robin Ammon, chair of the department of sport management at Slippery Rock University, because the popular textbooks necessarily refer only to cases from years ago.”
The way cases are reported also attracts pedagogues. “It is giving informed opinion and reporting accurately from recent cases,” says Beth A. Easter, associate professor in sport management classes at Southeast Missouri State University. “I think those probably have more value than the articles that are commentary.”
Teachers leverage the content in a variety of ways. Most popular is using the published cases as entry points for discussion of current sports law topics. Easter’s students, for example, are assigned to read each issue preparatory to class discussion of the articles. “Usually one student will give a summary, then we try to ask questions and tie that back into things we’ve been studying in class,” she says.
McKelvey refers to cases from the current issue in his Monday and Wednesday lectures. “Then I have current events that I have students make presentations on in each discussion session on Fridays,” he says. “They have to do 10 minutes on a current or pending case. So that becomes a resource for them.” As part of Ammon’s oral final, students are required to find a case that’s pertinent to an area of law that they’re interested in, and then describe it to the class in a PowerPoint presentation.
The publication also gets high marks for translating legal language into ordinary English. “I have undergrads and graduate students that aren’t in law school,” Ammon says. “Sometimes the cases are full of legalese so it’s difficult for a student who does not have a lot of background in reading cases. This puts it in easy to read terminology.” Susan Foster, professor in the sport business department at Saint Leo University, has students pick out new terminology they are learning, and explain how it is used in a particular article or case.
The online archives of past Sports Litigation Alert articles represent one of the most valued benefits of a subscription, according to these educators. This trove of recent history allows students to research trends in specific areas ranging from foul-ball cases to Title IX issues, says McKelvey. “Because it has so many of the lower court cases in both state and federal, it really helps students to see the way the judicial system works and the way different states and judicial circuits can look at issues,” he adds.
Teachers employ Sports Litigation Alert to instruct collectively hundreds of college students each semester, and most have done it for years. With regards to the future, few foresee reducing their use of the publication in class. McKelvey has visions of someday putting students in groups of two or three, assigning them to research a topic using Sports Litigation Alert, and then issue a report describing state of the law, trends and key points based on the last five cases. McKelvey also has considered asking them to summarize case law over the last few years, then describe several risk management strategies they would recommend to a sports manager. “I could see that as an exam question,” he says.
Without any change to content or applications, however, Sports Litigation Alert already claims some devoted fans. “I’ve been glad to have it,” says Easter. “Students see the relevance of what they’ve been studying.” Adds Ammon, “It’s a much needed resource that’s filling a niche that’s not present with any other publication.”