Reality-based programming being white-hot at the moment, we present for your consideration: Gold Medal Law. Watch the briefs fly as sports attorneys leave no tort unturned in a series of never-ending skirmishes to secure their clients a spot on the U.S. Olympic team!
Lisa Raymond, the top-ranked American doubles tennis player, lost an appeal through the American Arbitration Association to take Serena Williams's spot on the U.S. team. Greco-Roman wrestler Matt Lindland is in Sydney only after winning a protracted legal battle that fellow 167.5-pounder Keith Sieracki vainly took to the U.S. Supreme Court. USA Softball was twice forced by a federal arbitrator to reselect its roster and ended up with the original only after a settlement was reached with a player, Julie Smith, who along with two others appealed the selection process.
One conclusion seems obvious, right? Litigiousness is now a blight on the U.S. Olympic team just as it is on society in general.
That's simplistic. Better Raymond's willingness to fight to get to Sydney than Pete Sampras's casual Maybe-I'll-play-when-the-Games-are-in- Greece approach. Better Lindland's legal assault than Shaquille O'Neal's and Kobe Bryant's my-plate's-too-full spurning of the basketball competition. When the Games went to all-out professionalism, we all fretted over the specter of overcommercialization and unbalanced competition. What we failed to foresee was so many big-name pros viewing the Olympics with apathy.
For many athletes the Games are the pinnacle of years of anonymous sweat and toil. They may not be the mountaintop sought by Sampras and Shaq, but Raymond sees something special in them. "To walk into that stadium during the opening ceremonies with all those amazing athletes, there can't be too many things that can come close to that," she said.
Of course, we should not impute completely pure motives to those who would sue to suit up. Raymond no doubt realizes that a gold medal would translate into endorsement deals. Even Lindland or another athlete in one of the nonglamour sports can muscle up his Q rating—and his bank account—by winning the gold or by becoming a chest-thumping personality, as Greco-Roman superheavyweight Matt Ghaffari did in 1996. "The stakes keep going up for athletes," says Paul Haa-gen, codirector of the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Duke. "They are much less willing to defer graciously."
Because such an opportunity comes along only once in a lifetime for many athletes, why should they?