Contractual Issues Criminal Issues

Leveraging Your Morals: How One’s Conduct Off The Field Can Affect Your Bargaining Power

This past week, it was reported that Italian soccer player, Mario Balotelli, had his drivers’ license immediately confiscated for going 25 miles over the speed limit in a residential area near his home in Brescia, Italy. While being caught driving over the speed limit may not be cause for extreme concern for some individuals, who may simply pay the fine, attend a class, and hope to remain within the parameters of the law in order to avoid future repercussions, with Balotelli, this seemingly harmless infraction has severe implications that may affect his ability to play the game he loves moving forward.

Over the summer, the Italian striker penned a new deal with soccer powerhouse and his former team, AC Milan. Within the contract, the team inserted a “good behavior” clause – also commonly referred to as a morals clause – that, among other things, banned Balotelli from sporting extravagant haircuts and clothing, smoking, and visiting night clubs. Furthermore, the contract stated that the club could rescind the contract with immediate effect for any transgressions deemed unacceptable or that negatively impact the image of the team.

Some may wonder: “Why would a player with such ability and world renown agree to include such terms in his contract?” While many discussions are held between a player’s representative or agent and the team with regard to what are and are not acceptable contract terms, when one side arguably has the upper hand in negotiations, they typically are able to control what pertinent provisions must be included. This appears to be case here, with Balotelli – known by some mostly for his plethora of controversial acts off the field – in hopes of returning back to his home country and playing for a club where he has enjoyed substantial success, accepting a deal more favorable to the team.

Generally speaking, teams have unfettered discretion in determining whether to enforce a morals clause inserted in a player’s contract. However, provisions contained in morals clauses vary in extremity, with some stating that the team may dismiss a player for involvement in any act that, in the team’s sole discretion and reasonable judgment, injures or adversely reflects on the name, goodwill, or reputation of the team. On the other end of the spectrum are clauses that state that the team may only dismiss the player if he is convicted for participation in any felony, crime, or violation of law, except for traffic infractions. As evidences, contract terms – and specifically those affecting the duties, obligations, and covenants of the parties – are fluid and dependent on who is able to assert more influence on the other side. Therefore, it is important for those wishing to avoid the insertion of a stringent or broad morals clause to avoid engaging in off the field activities that would encourage their respective team to include such.

As previously stated, teams have the ability to revoke a contract based on an alleged breach of a morals clause as they see fit. After his arrest, it was stated that Balotelli was contrite and apologetic for his actions, and upon his recent return to AC Milan, Balotelli’s teammates have praised his work ethic and desire to “[change] his mentality” on and off the field. Even though it remains to be seen whether AC Milan will in fact enforce its right to revoke the striker’s newly minted contract, such acts by Balotelli may work in his favor in negating any such compulsion by the team.