19th Annual Fordham Sports Law Symposium

The 19th annual Fordham Sports Law Symposium will take place at Fordham Law School on Wednesday, April 1, 2015. We are truly looking forward to this year’s exciting event!

Register at: law.fordham.edu/sportslaw


Keynote Speakers: 

Jessica Berman, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, National Hockey League

Shepard Goldfein, Partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

Panelists and Moderators:

David Anders, Partner, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz

Megan L. Brackney, Partner, Kostelanetz & Fink, LLP

Mark Conrad, Director of Sports Business, Fordham University Gabelli School of Business

Marc Edelman, Associate Prof. of Law, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, CUNY

Stephen Kidder, Partner, Hemenway & Barnes LLP

Benjamin Levine, Attorney-at-Law, Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani

Jennifer O’Sullivan, Partner, Hand Baldachin Amburgey

James Quinn, Partner, Weil Gotshal & Manges

Robert Raiola, CPA, Senior Manager, O’Connor Davies

Jeffrey White, Special Counsel, Covington Burling

Faculty Moderator:

Professor John Feerick


Symposium Chair Katie Rosenberg krosenberg4@law.fordham.edu

Fordham Sports Law Forum fordhamsportslaw@gmail.com

Panel 1: Professional Athletes’ Tax Returns: Analyzing the “Jock Tax”

Like many tax-paying Americans, professional athletes often hire accountants to file their tax returns due each year. Unlike most tax-paying Americans, professional athletes are required to file a separate state tax return for each state in every state they play that has an income tax. Generally, these taxes take a player’s annual salary and divide it by the number of “duty days” in the season, defined differently by each taxing body and can include all or some of the following: days of team meetings, training, preseason, practices, and games. This yields the player’s “daily wage,” which is then taxed by states and municipalities at their different rates.

This complicated scheme has generated legal action across leagues, the majority of which challenge the way certain places calculate their taxes owed and who these taxes benefit. Tennessee’s flat-rate “privilege tax,” which charged the NBA and NHL’s highest and lowest earners the same amount, wasn’t remitted to its state treasury, but rather, to the operators of the Nashville and Memphis arenas. The problem-laden tax was repealed in April 2014, with its lead sponsor noting that the tax would fail constitutional challenges because it exempted NFL players and possibly violated the commerce clause. Additionally, several NFL players have appeals pending in the Ohio Supreme Court over Cleveland’s calculation of its 2-percent tax levy on salary divided by the number of games, not “work days,” in a season.

This panel will highlight the different tax schemes that have been subject to litigation, and then will debate potential changes or improvements to these current systems. In doing so, the panel will address the competing interests of imposing local and state taxes on visiting players. Should visiting athletes pay state and local taxes to support the communities in which they play, or are these communities already benefitted by the league’s economic value? Teams play more games in their home state than in any other place, but taxpayers usually receive credits on their home-state return for taxes paid in other states. Are players’ home states disadvantaged by this loss of tax revenue? What kinds of tax reforms would alleviate the complexities and problems of the current system?

Panel 2: Politics Imitating Sports, or Sports Imitating Politics? An Analysis of Women’s Issues in Society & Sports

Thrust into focus since the release of now-infamous elevator footage of a domestic violence incident involving Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice, domestic violence among athletes has become a national conversation. Yet, for years, male athletes at the collegiate and professional level, with increased visibility in their local, regional, and national media, have faced varying degrees of punishment and accountability for committing crimes against women. In September, House Judiciary Committee Democrats sent a letter to the commissioners of the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, and MLS urging leagues to “mak[e] their [domestic violence] policies public and reviews transparent.”

After a landscape introduction to the current policies of professional leagues and collegiate athletic governing bodies for addressing domestic violence and sexual assault, the panel will discuss the legal and societal frameworks that may encourage or hinder potential change: the effect of social attitudes and media coverage; the House’s letter and the government’s future involvement; and, Collective Bargaining Agreements and league structure. The panel will additionally answer larger thematic questions these incidents have raised:

  • How, if at all, does the scarcity of women in executive positions in sports affect attention to and change of these policies?
  • What responsibilities do American sports leagues have in the promotion of women’s sports and treatment of women both domestically and around the world?
  • Do athletes receive different treatment in the criminal justice system because of their public status?
  • Does league leadership or league structure shield athletes from criminal penalties? What policies could remove barriers at the collegiate and professional level that prevent teams from properly investigating and punishing players with domestic violence or sexual assault allegations?

Each of these issues will be discussed considering the role of lawyers in representing leagues, players, and victims; investigating allegations; drafting new policies; and enforcing league procedures.

Panel 3: The Power of the Public: How Fans Affect Team Ownership and League Management

The popularity of sports adds additional layers of scrutiny in employee violations above leagues’ established by-laws or rules, policies, or collective bargaining agreements, especially when the misconduct takes the form of socially discouraged behavior. Because the public is the consumer of professional and collegiate sports, their leagues, teams, and universities have financial incentives to conduct internal investigations and punish these behaviors in a way that both follows protocol and satisfies the fans. But what moral incentives govern leagues to fairly and appropriately punish bad behavior, separate from fan reaction?

The increase in media coverage and social networking, informing the public in an instant, can lead to reasonable public outcry over reprehensible behavior, but can also lead to judgment before allegations are properly investigated. Pressure from fans, social organizations, and public figures creates tension between the legal obligation to exact punishments that follow the law, league by-laws, and other policies, and the social obligations (and financial motivation!) to punish behavior in a way that satisfies fan bases.

This panel will focus on two key questions, focusing on the practical and ethical dilemmas they present:

  • Who should punish team owners who behave badly: the league or the fans?
  • Should leagues create more consistent disciplinary regimes for “conduct detrimental,” or should they remain purposefully ambiguous to allow discretion in punishment?



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