Last month, sports lawyer Mickey Ingles came out with “Laws For Sports and the Sporty,” the first book about sports law in the Philippines.
Made as a guide for athletes, coaches, team management, fans, and anyone who wants to understand the legal side to sports, the book’s Q&A format draws upon both research and actual experiences of Filipino athletes. Several PBA coaches and players are credited in the acknowledgements, like San Miguel’s Von Pessumal, NLEX’s Kiefer Ravena and Juami Tiongson, TNT’s assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, and the recently retired Chris Tiu.
Ingles sees the world through what he calls “sports-colored glasses” because of his own experiences as an athlete. The 2012 bar topnotcher was also a three-time UAAP champion and former captain of the Ateneo men’s football team.
Sports law is still an emergent field of practice in the Philippines. It isn’t yet standard for Filipino athletes to bring in a lawyer when negotiating their professional contracts, and many of the biggest organizations in the country don’t have a regular team lawyer. This is very different from the NBA, where everyone—from the league, to the teams, to the individuals—has lawyered up.
“We’re far from mature, in terms of basketball and sports law,” says Ingles. “For example, players in particular aren’t aware of their rights. That’s the baseline. It’ll guard them from abuse and exploitation, and help safeguard what they’ve worked hard to achieve. For example, their image—if players knew that they owned their image and likeness, they could prevent people from making money off of them and instead use it as another avenue for their livelihood.”
“Education can improve basketball in the Philippines. I know law doesn’t seem to be the obvious answer in how to improve Philippine basketball, but improving awareness of law will help raise the level of basketball to other countries,” he adds.
One concrete area he sees is doping. “If we were more aware about the legal implications of doping, then our players would be more careful in what they put in their bodies. Losing a key player to doping has a direct impact to the team,” says Ingles.
Ingles also believes understanding sports law will elevate the management of teams. “If each coach, manager, player, team owner, organizer, and referee knew their respective legal duties and actually performed these duties, then the state of Philippine basketball would altogether improve,” he explains. “That’s just the baseline. Imagine the change if they went over and beyond their legal duties.”
Trinca Diploma, the research assistant for the book and aspiring sports lawyer, was also the student manager of the Ateneo Blue Eagles during the Coach Norman Black era. She believes the PBA needs a players’ association.
“PBA players needs collective representation in order to voice out not only their concerns, but also the players’ rights that some players may or may not be aware of. There are issues that need to be addressed such as unilateral contracts that benefit only management; player injuries, healthcare, and other retirement benefits,” Diploma says. “Their careers are short-lived compared to other professions, which is precisely why they need better protection. The best way to give them a better chance at affording what’s due to them is through collective representation because there is strength in unity.”
The need for sports law practitioners also reveals itself when situations go sideways. Think of the brawl between the Philippines and Australia’s national teams. Think of FIBA declaring athletes ineligible for play. And on a daily basis, understanding our current laws lets us get a better perspective on how we appreciate the game.
Here are just some of the bits from “Laws For Sports and the Sporty” that basketball fans need to know.
I’m sitting courtside and a player dives into the audience after a loose ball, breaking my nose and a few ribs. Can I sue the player or the owner of the venue?
“You can’t sue the player and expect to win. He was neither negligent or at fault in chasing after the loose ball. He had every right to go for the ball. You can’t sue the stadium owner either. A player diving for a loose ball and finding himself in the first few rows occasionally happens in basketball. It’s an assumed risk of sitting courtside. If you don’t want to expose yourself to such a risk, you should’ve sat elsewhere.” (Page 92)
Can basketball players trademark their nicknames to sell official merch?
Yes! Players can register their names “as a trademark with the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines.” (Page 115) This lets them sell their own merch with the trademark or enter into licensing deals, allowing others parties to use it in exchange for licensing fees.
We hear about franchise players being let go from their teams after missing practices—even if the player performs well on the court. Why can the team do that, when the athlete helps the team wins games?
“Non-attendance in the team’s practice sessions can be considered gross and habitual neglect of [an athlete’s] duties as a player. And, if you look at the contract, there’s probably a stipulation that mandates [players] to attend all training sessions.” (Page 50)
Let’s talk about extra rice. Can my favorite team give my favorite chunky player an ultimatum to lose weight or else be cut from the lineup?
“They can impose such policy. Weight can be considered a bona fide occupational qualification because weight and fitness are reasonably necessary in performing [the] job as a basketball player. They can cut [a player] if [they don’t] make weight.” (Page 51)
“Laws for Sports and the Sporty: A Handbook on Philippine Sports Law” is published by Rex Book Store and is available nationwide.
Photos from the NLEX Road Warriors