A Post-COVID Inflection Point and Call to Action: Theorizing a Legal Right to Youth Sport, Play, and Physical Activity in the United States


  • Jeffrey F. Levine Drexel University




COVID-19, youth sport, policy, constitutional law


Literature links sport, play, and similar leisure endeavors to numerous physical, psychological, and social benefits critical to a young person’s development. Unlike other nations, the United States lacks a national policy to fund structures supporting youth sport, play, and the like. Instead, a for-profit youth sport industry oversees this sector using a pay-to-play model, creating significant financial and access barriers. The COVID-19 pandemic created an inflection point and call for action to meaningfully reform youth sport. Advocates often claim, without providing legal justification, that access to sport and play is a constitutional right. Therefore, the purpose of this commentary is to move beyond aspiration or hypothetical rhetoric and investigate whether a persuasive legal argument exists that places a constitutional legal responsibility upon the United States federal government to create structures, allocate funding, and provide universal access to free sport, recreation, and play opportunities for youth. While review and analysis of relevant case law found that no constitutional right likely existed under United States law, this process confirmed that that such claims will have little chance of success under current precedent. Therefore, given the improbability of substantive voluntary reforms in the private sector, a deeper exploration of innovative legal theories is required to achieve the necessary structural change.

Author Biography

Jeffrey F. Levine, Drexel University

Jeffrey F. Levine, JD, PhD, is an assistant clinical professor of sport business and leads the Esports Business Program at Drexel University. His interdisciplinary research explores the convergence of sustainability, social development, and law in the sport and esport industries. He is a Past Pres- ident of the Sport and Recreation Law Association (SRLA) and has been recognized as an SRLA Fellow for his achievements in legal aspects of sport and recreation-related scholarship.


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