Mediating Sports Disputes/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

Posted on April 28, 2019


The Supreme Court has dealt with three cases centering around arbitration clauses, during this term. Management often favors arbitration clauses as it is seen as delivering a quick and more predictable result than other means that are available. In arbitration,one or more third-party arbitrators issue a ruling that is usually binding. Often, in sports disputes, arbitration clauses plays a decisive role. This may be quite unfortunate according to Adelphi University Professor, Mark Grabowski. In 2014, Professor Grabowski wrote an article for the Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law about mediating disputes in sports situations. The article is entitled “Both Sides Win: Why Using Mediation Would improve Prop Sports”.

Why does Professor Grabowski advocate for mediation in sports disputes? Among the arguments are the following:
*Mediation involves a search for a Win-Win result. Win-Lose is only in the interest of the winning party. What happens to the manager who loses and has to deal on a daily basis with the “overpaid” player”? In the alternative, how hard will a “losing” player play for his team who would not pay him his “worth”?

*Mediation will lead to more productive relationships. The management and player both want to be successful in their roles. This is most likely to occur in mediation where interests and not positions will govern the discussion.

*Mediation involves dialogue and a meeting of the minds. This will be the best antidote to future disputes.

*If mediation is used early in a process, rather than arbitrated hearings, the parties will not be hopelessly dug in to their positions. This will avoid the situation where the ill-will generated by the dueling positions makes future relationships relations less positive. It is not uncommon that in arbitrated hearings, the fans, who pay the bills, often lose interest in supporting their home team or home players. The mediation process also saves thousands, if not millions, of dollars. A study cited in the article states that the cost of a
mediated dispute is likely to save 60% of a litigated dispute. Mediation in the early stages of a dispute makes great sense.

Arbitration clauses do serve a purpose, but in the sports area,as in others, mediation is still the gold standard. Mediate don’t litigate.