2612568276918. Player Discipline in Team Sports

Player Discipline in Team Sports

Player Discipline in Team Sports

Jan Stiglitz

Player Discipline in Team Sports – The purpose of this paper is to briefly outline the issues involved in disciplining athletes in this country’s four major team sports: baseball, football, hockey and basketball.

As anyone familiar with the industry knows, we live in changing times; only football has a long-term labor agreement This makes it particularly difficult to definitively explicate the disciplinary process.

Similarly, one can hardly speak with any authority about the power of the Commissioner of baseball when there isn’t one, and the owners have just recently rewritten the rules which define the Commissioner’s powers. But there are enough similarities in the historical disciplinary structures of the four leagues to create a framework for analysis and highlight the major problem areas.

This article will first present an overview of the structure of the industry, its disciplinary mechanisms, and the legal issues that are implicated. The article will then outline the specific disciplinary framework which exists (or has recently existed) in each of the four major team sports.

A. “The Players”

In order to understand the issues involved in athlete discipline in team sports, it is necessary to understand the particular structure of the typical sports league. In this structure, there are number of individuals and entities who have significant rights and power. Unlike the traditional employment setting, where the “company” is the only source of discipline, in professional team sports, there is an additional source of discipline: the league.

In team sports, the “company” is the player’s club. But athletes in the four major team sports are also subject to discipline by the league, which acts through its president or commissioner.

Moreover, in the case of baseball, there is an additional level of disciplinary authority because Major League Baseball is comprised of two, somewhat autonomous leagues. Each league has a President, who exercises a certain amount of disciplinary authority.

Another significant “player,” in terms of disciplinary authority, is the on the field official. Misconduct on the playing field is a very common basis for discipline. The actions of the umpire or referee, and that official’s report of the incident, may ultimately determine whether an athlete is disciplined and what the level of discipline will be.

For example, in football, ejection from a game can be the basis of a fine.2 Similarly, in hockey, the on-ice officials have the power to suspend a player for up to twenty games.

B. The “Rules”

The relationships between these actors are governed by a set of interrelated documents which need to be reviewed in order to determine who can impose discipline, under what circumstances, subject to what limits, and with what scope of review. Typically, there are three basic documents’ to be considered.

1. The Collective Bargaining Agreement

When all goes well, there is the collective bargaining agreement, entered into between the union and the league, which governs the terms and conditions of employment. The typical collective bargaining agreement will have one or more sections devoted to discipline. 4 This part of the collective bargaining agreement will be a primary source for the rules determining who can impose discipline and under what circumstances.

The collective bargaining agreement will also have a grievance procedure. 5 In the event of a dispute over the imposition of discipline, the collective bargaining agreement will establish who ultimately decides whether the discipline was appropriate.

Finally, the collective bargaining agreement will contain important procedural rules, regarding such issues as notice, time limits, discovery, and representational rights.

For example, the article on discipline in the current collective bargaining agreement in baseball provides that a player can be subjected to discipline for “just cause” by “his Club, League or the Commissioner.”‘6 The agreement also provides for notice 7 and discovery rights.” Finally, the agreement sets out a grievance procedure, which gives the player the right to have most disputes resolved by a neutral arbitrator.9

2. The Uniform Player Contract

In the traditional industrial setting, the collective bargaining agreement governs salaries for all covered employees. By tradition, in team sports, the collective bargaining agreement contains the general terms and conditions of employment but only sets forth the minimum salary.

Athletes have been allowed to individually negotiate salaries and certain other perks and benefits with their teams, so long as these agreements do not diminish the minimum rights and  benefits awarded under the collective bargaining agreement. 10

The vehicle for memorializing and governing this individual player-club agreement is the “Uniform” or “Standard” player contract. This contract may contain provisions which directly affect discipline.

For example, the ultimate discipline is discharge. The Uniform Player’s Contract in baseball contains the provisions under which the club can terminate the contract and thus the player’s employment.”

Paragraph 7(b)(1) of the Uniform Player’s Contract states that the club may terminate the contract if the player shall: “fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and* good sportsmanship or to keep himself in first-class physical condition or to obey the Club’s training rules.”


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