United States: What I've Learned About Life, Law And Sports

The following is a Q&A conducted with Thompson Coburn partner Bob Wallace that originally appeared in Professional Sports and the Law, a Hackney Publication

1. How did you get your start in sports law?

I have always been interested and very involved in sports. I was a running back at Yale and played some baseball as well. After Yale, I went to Georgetown University Law Center and in-between my second and third year, I interned at the NFL Office for then-League Counsel Jay Moyer. By the way, my internship pre-dated Roger Goodell's as I was the first league intern, so I take credit for paving the way for the current Commissioner. It was a great experience and I happened to get it because it was at the beginning of the Raiders move from Oakland to Los Angeles (1980) and Jay Moyer and the Executive Director under Commissioner Rozelle, Don Weiss, were looking for someone to do legal research. 

During that summer I met outside counsel Paul Tagliabue, and he helped me secure a law clerk position during my third year at Covington & Burling in D.C. As I began looking for a permanent position, I wrote to a lot of places and I got an invitation to meet with the St. Louis Football Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill. Mr. Bidwill found my background interesting as, through a family friend, I had spent the summer of 1971 as a ball boy for the Cardinals, even though I was from New York City. I also went to Georgetown, his undergraduate alma mater. Talk about the old boys network.  He was looking for a young lawyer to assist his General Counsel Thomas J. Guilfoil in handling the day-to-day legal operations and eventually negotiating player contracts. I was hired at Guilfoil, Symington, Petzall & Shoemake, moved to St. Louis, and started my sports law career in 1981.

2. During your tenure as general counsel of the Rams, what was the best part of the job and the worst?

The best was winning the Super Bowl. No matter if you're a player, coach or front office person, the games and comradery you build are lifelong. I also served as a business executive, so I had P&L responsibility and oversaw the business operations. 

I wouldn't call it the worst part, but the most challenging part is integrating the business side and football side together. There is an inherent conflict and I spent much time trying to get everyone on the same page. Successful organizations have great communication and collaboration, and it was a constant challenge to remove silos.

3. How did the opportunity come about with Thompson Coburn and how would you describe your time since joining the firm?

After I left the Rams in 2010, I really didn't know what I was going to do. One of the Thompson Coburn partners, Alan Goodloe, was a parent at John Burroughs School, where his daughter and my son attended. One day at a football game he introduced himself and suggested we have lunch. He asked me if I had ever considered going back to practicing law at a firm. I was open to that possibility, so he set up a lunch with a couple of other partners. Thompson Coburn had done some work in the finance area for some of the teams, public buildings and universities and a couple of lawyers did some personal work for athletes (mostly retired). We talked about whether we could grow the sports law practice.

Because the Rams had recently changed ownership hands, I was not bringing them along with me as a client. That meant I was trying to build a practice from scratch — the firm has been very supportive on that front. Since my arrival, we do some work with the United Center in Chicago, the Chicago Bulls, the St. Louis Visitors and Convention Commission, the St. Louis Cardinals and the National Football League. Over the years I made a lot of friends in the business, so I have represented some executives, coaches and athletic directors in contract matters.

I really see a growth area in college athletics. Compliance is critical to the NCAA model and universities and colleges need to have in place policies and protocols to deal with the inevitable issues and problems they will be confronted with in managing young men and women, highly competitive coaches and overzealous boosters. We have developed a program to help them.

4. How difficult was it losing the Rams to L.A. and why?

At this point I think St. Louis is just angry and feels betrayed by the NFL and the Rams, especially since unlike Oakland and San Diego, St. Louis was willing to step up and assist the Rams in getting a new stadium. Remember this is the second time in 30 years we lost an NFL team. And actually, if St. Louis would have presented Bill Bidwill with the same proposal they did this time, the Cardinals would have never left.

However, as I look at the Rams move, I don't see it as a referendum on St. Louis. This city supported this team, and anyone who went to a game or followed the Rams from 1999-2004 saw some amazing and exciting football. The Dome was electric during that time, and even during the lean years, Rams fans for the most part stayed very loyal. It is hard seeing the celebration about the Rams' return to L.A., but I think back to how those fans felt and how happy we were as a city when they came to St. Louis in 1995.

I like to think that someday NFL football will return to St. Louis. This is a great sports town that has successfully supported three professional teams. Hopefully, time will heal the wounds we are feeling right now.

5. How would you grade the NFL's efforts in creating opportunities for minorities at the executive level?

Incomplete. When I started in 1981 and went to my first League meeting, I was the only person of color in the room. Commissioner Rozelle would make a point of saying that, and everyone's head would swivel around and look at me. For getting me to the table, Bill Bidwill could have pounded his chest. As was his nature, he did not, but he was a pioneer in providing opportunities for minorities and women (he hired the first female PR director). 

So, the opportunities are greater now. We have minority general managers and head coaches. The Rooney rule requiring the NFL to interview minority candidates has expanded to front office positions, and now there is a new similar rule for women candidates. But there is still a long way to go. Professional sports needs more diverse people, including people of color, in decision-making roles, and by that I mean hiring responsibility. In fact the other day I saw a picture of the NFL intern class, and in my opinion, it was not diverse enough. I pointed this out to Commissioner Goodell and HR Vice President Robert Gulliver. Constant vigilance is important to effectuate change.

Finally, I look forward to the day when the NFL and MLB have their first African American owner and then their second, and so on.

6. What are the ways that sports law has changed since you started in the field?

When I started in 1981, when people talked about sports law and lawyers they thought primarily of sports agents. You thought of Bob Wolf or Mark McCormack. I got to meet Ham Carruthers and Paul Tagliabue at Covington & Burling and they were really pioneers in having practices representing sports teams and leagues. Much of the work was concentrated in the antitrust area. After antitrust came labor law and collective bargaining. Now sports law is a developed discipline and there is case law and precedent on all types of issues in sports — from antitrust to contract to personal injury to trademark. It runs the gamut.

The Sports Lawyers Association, a wonderful group of lawyer involved in this area, started off with a handful of lawyers that dabbled in this field. At our last conference in L.A. we had over 1,000 attendees representing law students, agents, league and union counsel. In other words, the field is expanding and the number of professionals with expertise is growing.

7. What is your legal sweet spot as an attorney? In what areas can you most help teams as their outside counsel?

I think a good lawyer is a problem solver and that is what I bring to the table. I try to put myself not only in my client's shoes, but in the opposing side's shoes, so I can get a better understanding of how to resolve the differences. I like negotiating contracts. In the sports arena, contracts are usually the start of a relationship, so I try to reach a fair agreement that can stand the test of time. I have also had some success arbitrating and mediating disputes and I think my style is conducive to that discipline.

One of the things that was so attractive about Thompson Coburn was the breadth of practice areas. As I said previously, sports law covers many areas of the law, and I am able to instantly tap into that knowledge at Thompson Coburn. With my 30-plus years in the trenches with teams, I understand the challenges that teams are facing both from a legal and business perspective. I not only have lived in their shoes, but I have dealt with the same challenges they confronted, experienced the same setbacks, and achieved the same success when dealing with the host of issues and problems that crop up for a professional team. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions