Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Friday, June 02, 2006
Spelling Bees and Sports Law
For reasons that escape most of us, spelling bees seem to be sporting events. ESPN not only gives them air time, but if you look at ESPN.com and it's "Spotlight" section, you'll see listed, from left to right, "Spelling Bee, MLB, Page 2, Voices, and Tennis." You'll also see details on this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee, won by 13-year-old Katharine Close of New Jersey.
So why then is a spelling bee a sport? One reason may be that, like sports, spelling bees are competitive matches. And maybe that is why chess and poker tournaments also receive airtime on ESPN and other sports channels. But then again, can't the same be said of almost every life activity? Don't companies compete with each other? Don't artists compete with each other? Don't politicians compete with each other? Don't employees compete with each other? Heck, don't we compete with ourselves? Is everything then a sport? And if so, why doesn't ESPN cover those things?
Of course, we all know the real reason why ESPN broadcasts spelling bees: a lot of people watch them, so they are profitable. And think about why we watch them: we get to see the best of the best kid spellers competing with one another, mano-y-mano, and displaying a skill that almost no one else has. And the contestants are actually quite diverse and egalitarian for a "sport": males and females, of different backgrounds, treated as equal opponents. Even better for TV drama, there's that unmistakable nervous tension in the air--these kids have been preparing their entire lives to be on that stage, and, for better or for worse, they really look the part (and when I see that, I am even more grateful to my parents for letting me play sports and videogames as a kid instead of memorizing word spellings, but then again, I never got to be on that stage or ESPN).
So if we accept that a spelling bee is a sport, what then are some possible legal issues? We are, after-all, a sports law blog, and we don't want to ignore a sport. Here's a few:
1) Conflicts of interest with contestants' parents serving as their agents
We know this applies to some: forcing your kid to stay up all night to memorize words like "spheterize" and "drupaceou" and "tonitruous" because you want to be the parent of a spelling bee champion.
2) Age eligibility and spelling bees
What if a 5-year old is the Lebron James of spellers? In the likely absence of collective-bargaining, he may have a case.
3) Collective bargaining between contestants and ESPN over TV revenue
These kids are uniquely smart--if they could somehow band together as a negotiating unit, they might run circles around ESPN's lawyers. However, and at least based on parent interviews, I'd take ESPN's lawyers if the parents are the ones banding together.
4) Emancipated children (e.g., Gary Coleman; Corey Feldman) who become contestants (e.g., neither Gary Coleman nor Corey Feldman but someone else)
Now the world don't move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you, may not be right for some.