Thursday, August 27, 2020
Dallan Flake (ONU) has just posted on SSRN his article Protecting Professional Athletes from Spectator Harassment. I had the pleasure of reading an earlier draft and highly recommend it. Here's the abstract:
Instances of spectators harassing professional athletes because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin are well documented. This is not a new problem, but it is becoming worse in this age of emboldened bigotry. Fans are sometimes punished for such behavior, as are players who retaliate in response. Meanwhile, the teams and leagues that allow it to occur face no repercussions. This must change for there to be any hope of eradicating this egregious form of discrimination. The logical starting point is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, under which employers can be liable for harassment perpetuated against employees on the basis of certain protected traits. This statute is rarely utilized in the context of spectator harassment, in no small part because the standard for holding a team or league liable for the conduct of fans may seem impossibly high. This Article argues there is room within the extant legal framework for an athlete to prevail on such a claim and provides a blueprint for how to do so. Specifically, it asserts that (1) an athlete is entitled to a presumption that spectator harassment is unwelcome; (2) spectator harassment is sufficiently severe to be actionable because it is publicly humiliating, causes far-reaching harm, and is specifically intended to undermine job performance; and (3) spectator harassment is imputable to teams and leagues because they have the resources to implement more effective measures to protect athletes but choose not to. Holding sports organizations to account is necessary to bring about changes that will better safeguard athletes from this demeaning and degrading type of abuse.