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Friday, July 8, 2016

Due Process and Fair Play in Sports

Due process is an important aspect of our society and culture. It extends into most regions of our lives, including sports. When a person is suspected of committing an offense, or breach of rule and protocol, certain steps should be followed to afford the involved parties due process. First, the involved subject or accused should be notified of the offense. Then, an opportunity should be presented to the accused, to hear their side of the story. A fair trial or hearing should be conducted, presenting all relevant information and facts concerning the matter, by all parties. An appeal process should be in place, should the accused wish to challenge a decision from the hearing. Over the last thirty years, there have been numerous court cases and litigation matters concerning a wide variety of topics, within the sports community. Many questions have been raised concerning due process and sports. Most sports organizations and universities have implemented some form of due process policy or protocol, to mitigate litigation and liability issues and to afford a fair and unbiased avenue to resolve issues (Appenzeller, 2011).

In addition to due process policies, many organizations have implemented fair play policies to handle complaints and to ensure a fair and equitable environment for their sports programs. Fair play policies can cover a wide range of topics from sports ethics, morals, character traits, rules, regulations, enrollment, recruiting, eligibility, gender, complaint processing and many others. The simple concept of fair play refers to everyone playing by the rules, without cheating, to have an enjoyable and honest play of a sport. It rarely stays that simple in today’s world, where sports have become a multi-billion dollar industry. Some organizations and universities have very complex and detailed fair play policies, to cover the long list of associated variables, found in modern sports. Performance enhancing drug use, gender participation, unethical practices in recruiting and money laundering are some of the controversial topics, which have been thrown into the fair play mix, in recent years (Steenbergen, De Knop, & Elling, 2001).

One of the big issues, concerning due process and fair play in sports, is that there is a separation between law and the policies of non-state entities such as organizations, colleges and universities. Many appeals protocols culminate in a court house, with public schools, but private institution appeals usually end in a non-legal environment, such as a director of education. So while it is in everyone’s best interest to have good due process and fair play policies, the law does not automatically cover this, or specifically control, or mandate it. That leaves a lot of gray area, where inconsistencies between organizations, concerning things like fines, punishment and penalties, are left up to the individual organizations. Once again, there is a long history of litigation, addressing these various issues. And in a lot of circumstances, the rulings from different courts have been very inconsistent. In some cases, there are consistent rulings which have formed the basis of many organization’s policies. The reality is that there are no cut and dried sets of state and federal laws, to handle all due process and fair play situations, in sports. There have been many attempts at the state and federal level to address these types of issues, but it remains largely, in the hands of private organizations and universities. Governing bodies in sports, such as the NCAA, have become very powerful as a result. There are many issues that remain unresolved and new issues appearing, with each passing year. An athlete, coach or administrator can only hope that their organization has good due process and fair play policies, which look out for the rights of all involved (Green, 1992).


Appenzeller, H. (2011). Ethical behavior in sport. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press.

Green, R. (1992). Does the NCAA Play Fair? A Due Process Analysis of NCAA Enforcement Regulations. Duke University. Retrieved from

Steenbergen, J., De Knop, P., & Elling, A. (2001). Values and Norms in Sport: Critical Reflections on the Position and Meanings of Sport in Society. Meyer and Meyer Sport. Retrieved from

Eric Dempsey
MS, ISSA Master Trainer
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