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I recently was ensnared in an e-mail exchange between two colleagues who are sports fans. One’s team had beaten the other’s, and someone found occasion to copy me. After being privy to a few more messages, I ascertained that one had received a degree from a school in Boston, has no other connection with the city, and roots almost exclusively for teams from there. The other has two degrees from a school in Texas, but roots for no Texas teams. I continued to probe the basis and consistency of their fan choices and was promptly dropped from the e-mail conversation. It brought to mind an encounter I had at my first firm with a Maryland graduate, who challenged my standing to root for Duke since I had attended only law school there. According to this antitrust lawyer, competition rules allow me to support only my undergraduate school, the University of California. I dismissed his conclusion, but shortly afterward, he was promoted to the partnership. All this made me wonder: What’s the law on team allegiances? Does one owe a duty of loyalty to a given team based on the details of one’s biography? Or is there unfettered freedom to choose, a free market of allegiances implemented through a series of contracts either party can terminate at will? (Having framed it so dramatically, I will in good lawyerly fashion settle for a gray zone in between.) The issue is timely, what with the arrival of the Nationals to Washington. For decades, the region has received people who carried with them allegiances to sundry teams. But now the newcomer is a team, prompting potential fans to weigh old allegiances and consider whether to accept the Nats’ offer to join them. For those of you who understand these issues even less than I do, what follows are some preliminary observations on the law of sports allegiances. Jurisdiction. The key is where you lived and where you learned. Hometown ties usually equate to hometown team ties, but this nexus is complicated if you have lived here, there, and everywhere. And nowadays, even if you are well-rooted in a single hometown, your team may leave. A further twist is that the jurisdictional grip varies between regions. Midwestern teams seem to benefit from the long-arm jurisdiction of their homes. For example, one of my colleagues hails from St. Louis and remains loyal to St. Louis teams. (This may also demonstrate the superior values of folks from the heartland.) On the other end of the scale are Californians, those restless people whose fancy tends to be captured by pickup games of ultimate Frisbee rather than traditional sports allegiances. But the strongest long-arm jurisdiction extends from Boston, and the Red Sox in particular. No matter where people come from (except New York), how long they stay in Boston, or where the stream of commerce takes them, they seem to always root for the Red Sox. Colleges, typically a strong nexus, lack subject matter jurisdiction for those whose schools don’t house significant athletic programs. As a result, these sports fans wander around during Bowl Season and March Madness like orphans at Christmas. Some choose to live vicariously through a spouse’s school, while others opt for the classic remedy of rooting against the teams favored by everyone else. Justice. Some team allegiances are based on the demands of justice. Many baseball fans from across the land support the Cubs just because they feel this hapless team deserves to win. In the National Hockey League, some fans root for the team whose home lies further north, where the game was born and is entrenched in the culture. Conversely, it seems unconscionable to support a hockey team that plays where ice cannot be found outside except in drinks. Unjust enrichment. I moved to the San Francisco Bay area, and four months later the 49ers won the Super Bowl. They won twice again before I moved away. Without a doubt, I was unjustly enriched. Having derived such pleasure from seeing them win, am I estopped from deserting them? Or having cheered on the recent lackluster 49er teams, perhaps I have finally discharged my obligation and become free to accept the offer of another team. Prenuptial agreements. Who hasn’t fallen for a team for no other reason than it played beautifully or had a magnificent player? But this creates strain when the players age and the style of the team fades. The fan’s eye starts to wander. Because a marriage built on such a flimsy foundation inevitably ends in divorce, a prenuptial agreement is advisable (e.g., I’m rooting for the Packers while Favre plays, but after that I am leaving and owe the team nothing). Conflicts. Don’t get caught in a conflict. No one roots for both the Yankees and Mets, nor the White Sox and Cubs, but as you head west, such strictures relax. The conflicts rule is so freely interpreted in the San Francisco Bay area that many fans of the A’s and Giants refused to pick teams in the 1989 World Series; instead they sported hybrid green/yellow/orange/black caps that read Aiants. Arguing in the alternative. It wasn’t my goat, my goat wasn’t in your yard, you must have let it eat your flowers � the equivalent is just as weak when it comes to sports teams. Rooting for a series of teams in the same sport reveals a lack of conviction in a fan’s core belief and compromises the value of any victory. Turning back to baseball, many Washingtonians have grown accustomed to rooting for the Orioles, but now we have another option in the Nationals. Over educated professionals throughout the region are evaluating their choices and testing the strength of pre-existing attachments. Some maybe scouting for Oritionals caps. But it seems conflicts maybe the key. I understand the conflicts prohibition contains an unstated exemption that in good legalese is something along the lines of “A side from California, which has no rules, if the party has already designated an American League team as his or her team of choice, the party may, but is not required to, designate a National League team to also support, unless the designated American League team plays its home games at a venue less than 250 miles from the venue where the National League team plays its home games, and further provided that the party must, in the event such teams meet in the World Series, maintain its loyalty to the previously designated American League team.” Mariners and White Sox supporters might therefore rally behind the Nats, but few committed Orioles fans are likely to join them. As for those of us with a current allegiance to a National League team, we must choose whether to give a notice of termination to such team, finesse the conflicts rule and maintain split loyalties, or ignore D.C.’s team. For me it’s a simple choice. I’ll root for the Nationals � I used to live in Montreal. Gunnar Birgisson is an associate at D.C.’s Bracewell & Giuliani.

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