Friday Night Rights: Heat and High School Athletics

Doug Malan of the Connecticut Law Tribune recently interviewed me for his story “School Sports Aren’t All Fun And Games”, concerning the liability of high school coaches.  The story touched upon the arrest of two assistant football coaches in Middletown (Conn.) after a player collapsed during a workout on a particularly hot day.

Even basic physical activity, such as running, can turn into a question of liability for coaches.  This especially comes into focus in the early days of football training, when players often are sweating through extreme conditions wearing heavy equipment.

But liability issues can pop up anywhere in athletics and coaches are discovering that there is no shortage of situations that could land them in legal trouble.

“It’s added a lot of responsibility for the coach,” said Daniel B. Fitzgerald, a sports and entertainment law associate at Updike, Kelly & Spellacy in New Haven. “There are some coaches I’ve spoken with informally who say it’s not worth it anymore” to coach for little or no pay at a time when lawsuits are a real threat.

Fred Balsamo, executive director of the Connecticut Coaching Education Program at the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), discussed the risk that coaches face in allowing students to try new positions:

“If you’re putting a kid in a position he’s never played before, you’re exposed” to potential liability as a coach, Balsamo said. “Not everyone is going to file a lawsuit, but you don’t want that risk.”

Stay tuned for more Friday Night Lights coverage on liability and high school coaching.


  1. Unfortunately the lawsuits has become the new arch rival on every coaches schedule (and recreation leader, physical educator and playground supervisor).
    The threat of litigation has stopped good activities in their tracks (even dodgeball). A law suit general has the coach leaving the field (even if she/he is on the winning side). We are having a harder time finding dads and moms to coach youth sports. What is a day’s work for a lawyer is a life changing experience for the layman.
    Our current litigious system has done one positive thing – we are all far more conscious of finding ways to lower the chance of injuries. Not eliminate as too many folks continue to suggest. That, regardless of the opinion of many lawyers and some college professors, is impossible.
    There are times that we as coaches should be put on the carpet. Coaches, like lawyers are not perfect.
    The world of sport has done a great deal in risk management. It must continue. Society needs to better define the word “reasonable.” Judges have to toss out “no merit” cases. Having the losing side pay all costs would also lower the number of these
    “no merit” cases.
    Sport, playgrounds, gym classes remains a great
    place to grow and develop. We are doing our best to eliminate or make hopscotch our national past time. We need to return to something called “self responsibility.

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