Into this maelstrom of parental failure, charging ahead like a player rushing the net to catch up with a drop shot, is a case where parents of the No. 1 women’s tennis player in the world may have sold their daughter into one of the worst management contracts in the history of sports.
As TMZ Sports reports, Leonard Francois, father of Naomi Osaka, the No. 1 player in question, signed a contract with tennis coach Christophe Jean when Osaka was 13 in which Jean would train the young tennis phenom in exchange for 20 percent of her lifetime earnings when she finally went pro.
Osaka has reportedly made $10.8 million so far playing competitive tennis.
And “competitive” is exactly the word to describe Osaka—she beat Serena Williams at the 2018 US Open, wrenched the top spot in the rankings away from possibly the greatest women’s tennis player of all time in the process and looks like she could be setting the tennis world on fire for years to come considering she’s only 21-years-old.
20 percent of $10.8 million is $2.16 million, and that’s not counting endorsements or ancillary income, which would be included as part of that original 2011 contract between Francois and Jean.
As terrible contracts go, that’s right up there with some of the very worst sports deals of all time.
Jean has sued Osaka in Florida state court, and this is going to be a landmark case because of the sheer amount of money that could get involved. Osaka’s career could very well track like Williams’ career. Serena’s made over $88 million from prize money alone and as of 2017 had a net worth of $170 million that has likely grown significantly in the nearly two full years since.
The bigger point at issue is whether minors who have contracts signed on their behalf by their parents are responsible for the terms of the contract when they come of age.
After all, Osaka could not legally consent to a contract when she was 13 years old, and it is her own efforts, not those of her father, that hit all those tennis balls to win that $10.8 million.
But at the same time, Jean may have a valid argument that his coaching played a role in shaping Osaka and, just as importantly, her newfound economic worth.
There are dozens of ways a good contract lawyer could spin this—does Jean get 20 percent of everything Osaka earned until she turned 18 and nothing thereafter as Francois’ guardianship of his daughter de facto expired?
Was the provision of service the causative event that generated the economic value and therefore 20 percent in perpetuity is an acceptable fee to charge?
Or will a judge have to decide some thorny mathematical formula that says that Osaka’s earnings were X percent talent and Y percent coaching and therefore Jean is entitled to 20 percent of that Y percent number?
This is a genuine legal toss-up, and like a tennis match, the argument and counter-argument will bounce back and forth, lawyers using their cleverness like a racket.
TMZ Sports does note that Osaka has hired a lawyer for what will likely be a protracted legal battle.
“While it comes as no surprise that Naomi’s meteoric rise as an international icon and inspiration would lead to some false claim, this silly ‘contract’ that Naomi never saw or signed — which purports to give away part of herself at the age of 14 — is particularly absurd,” Alex Spiro, Osaka’s attorney, said per TMZ Sports.
Spiro made things perfectly clear about how he expects the case to proceed.
“This case has no merit and we will move past it.”
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