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What Makes an Athlete an Entertainer?

At one time, sport figures and entertainment figures occupied different social worlds but now these individuals jump from one world to the next and have blurred the lines. Successful (sometimes not so successful) athletes tend to become entertainment figures during and after their competitive careers. One of the major issues that sport and entertainment lawyers must deal with is protecting their star’s names and images. Publicity plays a major role in whether an athlete or entertainer can leverage their celebrity for profit. Brian Socolow, Partner in the New York office of Loeb & Loeb LLP and head of the firm’s Sports Law practice area confirms:

“Intellectual property rights are extremely important in both practices because they are both so tied to promoting and protecting their stars’ names and images. One of the key intellectual property rights for both sports and entertainment celebrities is the right of publicity, a property right that was first recognized in a lawsuit about baseball trading cards. Part of our practice centers on how athletes can protect their name and publicity rights, and how other entities in the sports industry can gain value from their association with those athletes, often by endorsement contracts, which can be extremely lucrative for athletes, in many cases beyond what they make in the competitive aspects of their careers. On the other hand, companies in the sports industry looking to enter into some type of endorsement deal have to consider very carefully who it is they want to be associated with.”

A big issue that sport and entertainment lawyers must be cognizant of is protecting their clients intellectual property rights once an endorsement has ended. Many times the term of the contract will expire but companies will continue to try and generate revenue from the property they once sponsored. Socolow uses two notable star athletes as examples:

“…Athletes need to be proactive in protecting their names and publicity rights so that they can capitalize on them off the field. They have to know what their rights are, then monitor the use of their name or likeness so that their rights aren’t violated. One example is Tom Brady, the MVP quarterback for the New England Patriots, who had an endorsement deal with General Motors that allowed the company to use his likeness and image. After his contract with GM ended, GM continued to use ads featuring Brady but they no longer had that right. That led to a dispute that was reportedly settled. Andre Agassi recently sued Target in a similar matter, claiming that it used his name on its line of sports sandals without his permission.”

Protecting the star’s rights is extremely important in this present time because athletes and entertainers are thought of more as brands than just talent. For decades companies worried about protecting logos and trademarks and now luminaries including professional athletes must protect their intellectual properties in the same manner. For all the athletes and agents out there Brian Socolow gives two tips that can save you from a costly intellectual property violation:

“The first thing an athlete can do is enter into agreements with the company he is dealing with so that each side is clear on exactly how that athlete’s name and likeness can be used. Beyond that, the athlete has to be very careful to monitor how others might be using the name and be ready to take legal action when necessary. Just like we help companies protect their trademarks or “brand image” from infringement, athletes have a “brand” that they have to protect also. Tiger Woods, for one, has done a very good job at seeking to prevent the unauthorized use of his image.”

For the February 2008 issue of the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, the editor interviewed Brian R. Socolow. The interview did not compare athletes and entertainers rather it presented the perspective that athletes tend to become entertainers and are subject to legal issues that were once reserved for entertainers. Objective criteria aside what do you think makes an athlete an entertainer?

By Kenji Summers

Everything your mother wanted you to be at a young age

5 replies on “What Makes an Athlete an Entertainer?”

These times and days the roles of an athlete are far greater than being just an athlete. An athlete especially a well known athlete is automatically put into “rock star status”. I was fortunate enough to witness Michael Jordan make the winning shot against Georgetown in nineteen eight-two up until the end of his extraordinary career with the Washington Wizards. When he first came into the league, fans saw this skinny kid dunking on everyone in site, making spectacular moves around the basket and winning six NBA world titles. This was entertainment then because this level of talent was never witnessed before and fans were pouring into the arena paying top dollar to see this athlete do something amazing.
What makes an athlete an entertainer are the fans, the media, the basketball culture, and the incredible dollars that are being paid to this athlete to play a game. To be part of a team sport that really contributes nothing to society accept for one purpose and that’s entertaining. The athlete doesn’t see him/her self as an entertainer because this is their career, this sport puts food on their tables, pay bills, put their kids through college, this sporting career takes cares of there families and themselves. It’s a different kind of nine-to five but it serves the same purpose.
The entertainment part was created by outside influences and now it has blinded some of our children with big pipe dreams, and crushing hopes that this is the only street that they can take to become successful in America.

In Response
I will always love sports because I have seen professional sports provide members of marginalized groups access to social and financial parity when they had none (but not neccessarily equality).
EK Powers I see that you believe outside influences created the entertainment but I guess we really need to think about why sport became entertainment. Since the times of Nero in Rome, “bread and circuses” were used to pacify the citizens and provide a distraction from their (often) miserable lives. The government or power structure always exploited the athlete(competitor) and gained more value from the relationship. That is why I think Western culture is obsessed with celebrities today. They are our distraction from the hustle of everyday life.
I don’t think the question really should be whether “Is sport entertainment?” rather that “Should sport be entertainment?”

In Response
Good points and true. I love sports as well especially the game of basketball, I’ve been a player since I received my first trophy in elementary school to the time I had to swallow my pride in high school when my team and I lost the championship game to rivals until college when our record was 0-12 and I quit because of my lack of dedication and commitment. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, exploited and distraction are the key words in your sentence. Exploitation is the American way! This country exploits our women in all sorts of videos; crime is splattered on the fronts of major newspapers as means of distraction, along with child and internet porn, killings of human beings, racism, sex, wars. These are all distractions to the human life that blinds us from what’s really going on in our government, in our family life, in our schools, our economy and our tax dollars.
Entertainment in a lot ways has become our escape from life’s pressures rather than dealing with our own demons. Sports in this world is more important than dealing with public school teachers that have no resources to better teach their class and training to deal with disruptive students, it’s more important to take Roger Clemons to court and ask him questions about steroids than to investigate our so called government on why are American dollars are being spent on rebuilding a country that we destroyed because of weapons of mass destruction that were never found.
The NFL (another entertainment sport) finds it more important to investigate a team or coach for secretly taping the other teams plays than to investigate why this Government can make an agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico unregulated by congress that merges these countries into one entity. When sports start to be more important than the real issues that are going in this country then this country has its priorities backwards.

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