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LEGAL CAREER INFORMATION YOU CAN USE

Sports Attorneys and Contracts [by Danielle D. Hansen, J.D.] This week at LawCrossing, we examine the world of sports agents and other attorneys who might be involved in the world of professional sports. From contract negotiation to public relations, this is a very specialized realm that can be quite rewarding should you pursue it.

The world of professional sports can be a

do so. It’s an overly specific situation where

The agent, of course, tries to negotiate as

stereotypically mysterious realm for some

his agent is inexperienced to some degree,

high a base salary as possible, just in case

females, but in my case-having grown up

and breach of contract, repayment fees, and

the client does not reach the milestone bo-

with two brothers-this wasn’t necessarily the

labor & players’ union bylaws are all coming

nuses. Injury clauses are a part of these con-

case. Even to a casual sports fan, there are

into play.

tracts as well. No where else in the working

some basic things we all know, one of which

world are employees (the athletes) subject to

is that most pro athletes are well paid. And

The National Hockey League is currently

such daily wear and tear on their bodies as

with those high salaries come some fairly

enduring a lock-out, a situation where the

in pro sports. It’s up to the agent to ensure

complex contracts, which in turn require

team owners are not allowing their players

that players are paid in full if they are injured

attorneys.

to begin the season due to contract disputes.

on the job, just like in any other profession.

The agents of individual players are fairly

So if a player gets hit by a hockey puck and

Now the basic sports attorney who repre-

uninvolved in this situation. Instead, the

has to miss a week while convalescing, the

sents individual athletes in their contracts is

unions have attorneys and the owners have

contract-and the agent-will make sure he is

an agent. The sports agent looks out for the

attorneys. There is plenty of legal work to go

still paid.

best interest of his client, including getting

around as negotiations continue. These contracts also contain specific provi-

him the best deal. This best deal rarely simply means the most amount of money, which

We point these out to show examples of cas-

sions for the dates an employee will work.

we will get into a little later.

es where attorneys can indeed be involved in

A football player performs once a week on

the world of sports without necessarily hav-

Sundays, but that doesn’t mean he’s only

Besides having a sports attorney (agent),

ing to be a sports agent. These lawyers must

obligated to “work” on those days only. The

many pro athletes these days are employ-

have a thorough understanding of the sports

practice schedules begin early each sum-

ing other attorneys as well. The headlines

world and players’ rights and responsibili-

mer and continue on into the dead of winter.

are full of unfortunate stories about pros

ties, but they won’t be involved in the day-to-

Players might only get one or two days of per

who have run into legal trouble, from drugs

day activities that an agent might be.

week, if that, and these types of things are

to assault, gambling to sexual offenses. It’s

spelled out in the contract as well.

a sad fact that many athletes have had to

So what might those duties be? What types

retain defense counselors in addition to their

of things are involved in a pro athlete’s

Unions also have their say in these contracts.

agents.

contract? Well, for starters, there’s the

One popular example that any sports fan

salary. There’s generally a base salary, and

has heard of is the no-trade clause. These

There are also less common circumstances

there are often bonus provisions. If a player

are amendments to the contract that clearly

where athletes need attorneys for specialized

becomes an all-star, for example, he may be

state that a player cannot be traded unless

events. These affairs are not in the realm

paid extra. Other such bonuses we’ve heard

the player himself approves it. Generally,

of the agents, so special counsels must be

of include extras for playing in a certain

these are clauses reserved for athletes who

brought in. Take the case of Ricky Williams,

number of games, avoiding injury, hitting

have a certain length of tenure with one team

for example. He was a Miami Dolphin run-

certain statistical milestones (such as hitting

or within the league as a whole. The unions

ning back who retired at the beginning of the

40 home runs in baseball or averaging 20

feverishly and regularly go to bat-no pun

season. And now that he wants to un-retire

points per game in basketball), among many

intended-for their members, and they are

and return to the National Football League,

others.

often responsible for getting clauses like

he’s had to retain counsel to look into how to

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these into league bylaws. Agents must work

continued on back


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LEGAL CAREER INFORMATION YOU CAN USE

in close conjunction with the union in this

something that they have signed a contract to

regard, because an agent for a rookie player

do? Not at all.

cannot demand such clauses through the league the way he can for a veteran.

In these cases, the agent may go public, telling the media about how great his client is

Another duty of the sports agent is often pub-

and why he deserves the money. The deserv-

lic relations. There are unfortunate instances

ing part is rarely in question. If someone is a

when a player refuses to report to work under

superstar, then they deserve the high salary

his current contract, and this is generally

that today’s sports market affords. But no

called “holding out.” A player often signs a

matter how much they deserve, they already

deal to play for 3 years, for example, at a base

signed a contract that says they will work for

salary. If that player excels and becomes

less money. A signed, sealed and delivered

one of the best in the league or if he sits on

document.

the bench in relative obscurity, then his base salary is still the same, as predetermined by

The agent tries to get the public on his side

the contract. So whether a player excels or is

in hopes that the fan base will pressure the

so-so, their contract is generally written to

owner to cave in and give a player a contract

give them the same salary either way.

renegotiation. This often works, but sometimes it backfires as well, leaving the player to

And the top athletes don’t like this. If a player

sit out the duration of his contract and earning

has great statistics and wants more money,

Zero dollars. Not a good thing for an agent

he often will not show up for practice and will

who has signed on to get 10% of that. What’s

want the owner to re-negotiate the contract,

10% of zero again?

and this, again, is where the agent comes in. A contract is already in place stating that the

Speaking of money, this is one of the great-

player will perform and also stating his sal-

est benefits if you’re considering becoming a

ary. This is in writing. The agent can go to the

sports agent. Even at a basic 10%, your salary

owner and say, “My client scored more points

get quickly shoot into the millions. With some

than anyone last year, yet you still are pay-

superstars earning more than $100 million

ing him the same salary as a below-average

over the duration of their contracts, a quick

player. Can we have more money.”

look at the math will show you that you stand to collect quite a lot.

The owner, of course, responds with, “No, his salary is set in writing. You signed it. Your

It’s a tough business to break into, but the

client signed it. If you want more money, you

financial rewards make it worthwhile. There’s

should have asked for it before you signed.”

also the reward of hobnobbing with some of the greatest and most famous athletes out

The impasse is in place. The player holds out

there. Currently, LSU, for example, has a

and does not report to practice or to games

program for sports agents, but passing that

until his contract is redone. This is such an

class successfully is still no guaranty of your

obvious case of breach of contract, but it’s all

success in the business world. What it takes is

but accepted in today’s sports world. Some-

hard work and knowing the right people. Then

times the owners quickly give in, knowing they

even more hard work. It’s all about building

need the player to make the team successful.

your client base.

Other times owners resist. The player is under contract and cannot go to another team on his own in this circumstance. Some say the owners are stubborn in these cases, but is it really stubbornness to ask someone to do

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Sports Attorneys and Contracts