Ask any attorney where the law comes from and that lawyer will tell you that we use both natural law and positive law to create our society’s rules. Sports are no different in this regard, and often are more dynamic even from a Naturalist stance. So now that we know what the sources are called, what do these terms mean and how do they apply to sports?
Natural law is law that comes from some external pressure guiding the situation. No matter whether you believe that outside source is a higher power, a cosmic force, or simply common sense, natural laws are ones that exist simply because without them our society would not be worth being a part of. These are laws prohibiting things like theft and murder, as well as more dynamic things like some environmental laws.
Similarly, natural laws for sports are rules that promote safety. These are rules like those requiring helmets or pads in sports where a person is likely to get hurt. They can also include dynamic rule changes that do not affect the overall competitive balance of the game, like the NFL’s various bans on certain dangerous moves, like horse-collar tackles, blindside blocks to the head, and the head slap.
Positive law, on the other hand, is law that comes from an internal societal force. The purpose of a positive law is generally to promote the society’s overall values among its members. Zoning laws, which do not derive from any natural source, but promote what a city believes is the best possible layout from an economic and public safety standpoint, are positive laws.
For sports, positive laws are those that promote fairness, rather than safety. Positive laws can fundamentally change some aspect of the game, like the introduction of instant replay, but don’t necessarily have to as long as the purpose is to level the playing field, like rules banning techniques considered unfair as opposed to dangerous. An unfair technique that was banned would be the use of tearaway jerseys by football players to thwart tacklers.
Now that we have an understanding of what natural and positive laws are, tomorrow I will show you how competitive rules of a game are analogous to the laws enacted by a government.