Legal Formalism, Institutional Norms, and the Morality of Basketball

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How is basketball like law? In its dependence on rules, interpretation, the symbolic ritualization of violence, the coordination of competition, requirement of the appearance of fairness, both real-time and appellate adjudication, its public visibility and central role in the organization of collective action -- this article, cluing into a series of contemporary jurisprudential controversies, identifies a series of core normative modalities shared by law and sports as forms of institutional practice.

Using case studies from the NBA and NCAA, as well as international competition and federal cases that involved challenges to disciplinary and other rulings, it makes the critical argument that strict formalism is a mirage in understanding the normative complexities of sports -- as those of law -- and argues that the role of rules in sports can be understood only as expressions of constitutive and expressive institutional norms (in this context, those of athletic competition).

The article then organizes those according to four categories and shows how this interpretation of the internal normativity of sports is superior to other positions prevalent in scholarship, the media, and public opinion. This framework also shows that a series of previous decisions by courts as well as NBA governing bodies have failed to realize the relation between sport as a rule-governed practice and its broader normative appeal and commitment (critique includes decisions in the case of the Suns-Spurs 2007, Knicks 1997, Kings-Lakers 2003 and others).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-67
JournalVirginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal
StatePublished - 2008


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