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  March 25, 2002

Law Professor Relishes Analyzing
High-Profile Sports Cases
By Scott Brinckerhoff

One night a few years ago, Lewis Kurlantzick was dining with a handful of old friends - all successful and prosperous - when someone asked how many at the table enjoy going to work every day. Only two hands shot up: one was that of Kurlantzick, a UConn professor of law since 1974.

Had that dinner occurred decades earlier, or just last night, his response would still be in the affirmative.

"It's been a great ride. I enjoy the students, the mentoring, the relationships, and the pleasure of watching my students go on to occupy important positions of public and private responsibilit y," he says. "Beyond that, the job provides an opportunity for intellectual growth via my own research, writing and teaching, and by interacting with others' projects."

Matters of Public Debate
Outside the classroom, the professor has built a reputation as an arbitrator and an incisive commentator on various legal issues that capture public attention - and his.

Kurlantzick especially savors a good collision between sports and the law, such as the one a few years ago when Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker was suspended and fined for unleashing a jeremiad against a sizeable chunk of New York City's population.

Kurlantzick's career, like every career other than those resulting from birth into a royal family, might have gone differently. After graduating with honors and a degree in Oriental history from Wesleyan University in the 1960s, he had only "a vague plan" to go to law school. With a bit of prodding from his mother, that plan gathered steam and Kurlantzick went off to Harvard, where he graduated cum laude.

He flirted briefly with the idea of private practice, but elected to stay in academia.

Sports and the Law
These days, Kurlantzick teaches courses in contracts, copyright, sports and the law, and arbitration. His sports law course, unusual when he started it, is now common at other schools.

"It's a good vehicle educationally and intellectually, because it lets students apply contract, labor law and other principles to this specialized area," he says.

From his second floor office in the law school's Hosmer Hall, Kurlantzick researches past cases that bear on present ones making headlines.

Often, he's able to combine his lifelong passion for sports with his professional love of the law. In the Rocker case, he dissected the pitcher's comments about welfare mothers, homosexuals, minorities and foreigners in light of the collective bargaining agreement that established the relationship between Rocker and his team.

Kurlantzick concluded, in an article for The Labor Lawyer, a leading labor periodical, that Rocker's off-field comments fell short of the "just cause" the agreement requires to support discipline of a player. He also found other laws, such as those relating to civil rights and maintaining a harassment-free workplace, nugatory in this case. To support his position, he noted that Rocker's conduct was neither ongoing nor detrimental to the team.

High-Profile Cases
In another high-profile case, disabled golfer Casey Martin sued to be allowed to use a golf cart in professional play. Kurlantzick sided with Martin, on the grounds that he was legitimately covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Martin is entitled to protection of the Act, not simply because he is disabled but because - independent of his disability - he is proficient at shotmaking," Kurlantzick wrote in The Connecticut Law Tribune.

Kurlantzick added that the accommodation Martin sought was reasonable under the law and did not alter the essential character of the sport.

Another pending golf-related case, involving the First Amendment, centers around Tiger Woods's effort to prevent a professional artist from selling prints of a painting he made of Woods at Augusta National. The artist's right to sell his creative work has been upheld by one court and is now on appeal. Kurlantzick says, "I'm against Tiger, because I think protection of a celebrity's right of publicity has become too expansive and needs to be constrained by free speech interests."

But he's for Mike Tyson. The boxer's efforts to be licensed in various states remind Kurlantzick of Muhammad Ali's predicament, years ago, when he was denied a license to fight in New York after refusing to be drafted into the military.

"Ali sued, asserting that he was being denied equal protection of the law. At trial it became clear that the New York Boxing Authority had licensed many ex-felons. In Tyson's case, the question is, on what grounds is he being denied a license? What standard has a state boxing authority applied over time, if any? A licensing board in effect can allocate jobs, and that's a huge amount of power. Excluding Tyson from something he's eminently suited to do is no small thing."

Expert Witness
Kurlantzick also writes frequently about copyright cases and is sometimes sought as an expert witness. In a recent case involving a defendant who had figured out how to decode DVDs, enabling them to be copied, several movie studios sued and prevailed.

Kurlantzick, filing an affidavit on behalf of the defense, argued in part that the plaintiffs may well have overstated damages resulting from any piracy. "They overestimate the number of reproductions, and then multiply that number by the price of an authorized DVD, even though the number of so-called illegal ones might never have been sold at that price. The presence of the 'illegal' ones may even have a positive effect on sales."

In what little free time he has, Kurlantzick belongs to a book club and indulges his eclectic taste in reading. He enjoys intellectual periodicals and such authors as William Trevor, Lorrie Moore, and Amy Bloom. He and his wife, Roberta, an elementary school principal in Farmington, also take in the theater and movies and travel abroad, when they can align their leisure time.

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