Law School Case Brief
Tenn. Secondary Sch. Ath. Ass'n v. Brentwood Acad. - 551 U.S. 291, 127 S. Ct. 2489 (2007)
When a participant in an athletic league is speaking as a citizen about matters of public concern, the athletic league can impose only those conditions on such speech that are necessary to managing an efficient and effective state-sponsored high school athletic league.
Petitioner Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association ("TSSAA") regulated interscholastic sports among its members, Tennessee public and private high schools. TSSAA sanctioned respondent Brentwood Academy, one of those private schools, because its football coach sent eighth-grade boys a letter in violation of TSSAA's rule prohibiting members from using "undue influence" in recruiting middle school students for their athletic programs. Following internal TSSAA review, Brentwood filed a lawsuit in federal district court against TSSAA and its executive director under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, claiming that enforcement of the anti-recruiting rule was state action violative of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and that TSSAA's flawed adjudication of its appeal deprived Brentwood of due process. The district court ruled in Brentwood's favor, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that TSSAA was a private voluntary association that did not act under color of state law. The Supreme Court of the United States reversed that determination and on remand, the district court again ruled for Brentwood. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the anti-recruiting rule was a content-based regulation of speech that was not narrowly tailored to serve its permissible purposes and that in its internal review, TSSAA improperly considered ex parte evidence, thereby violating Brentwood's due process rights.
Did TSSAA's anti-recruiting rule violate the First Amendment?
Assuming, without deciding, that Brentwood's coach was speaking as a citizen about matters of public concern, TSSAA could impose only those conditions on such speech that were necessary to managing an efficient and effective state-sponsored high school athletic league. Hard-sell tactics directed at middle school students could lead to exploitation, distort competition, and foster an environment in which athletics were prized more highly than academics. TSSAA's rule discouraged precisely the sort of conduct that might lead to those harms, any one of which would detract from a high school sports league's ability to operate efficiently and effectively. Thus, the Supreme Court of the United States found that the First Amendment did not excuse the school from abiding by the same anti-recruiting rule that governed the conduct of its sister schools. As to Brentwood's due process claim, even accepting the questionable holding that TSSAA's closed-door deliberations were unconstitutional, any due process violation was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the Brentwood identified nothing investigators shared with TSSAA's board that Brentwood did not already know.
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