Playmakers: Business and Legal Leaders Within Players’ Associations

On Monday, March 4th Brooklyn Law’s Entertainment & Sports Law Society (BESLS) and Labor & Employment Law Association (LELA) came together to host a panel discussing business and law within players’ associations. The panel was moderated by Andrae Nelson, Associate Legal Counsel at Overtime. Three esteemed panelists joined BESLS, LELA, and the Brooklyn Law community in the student lounge: Michael Goldsholl, Director of Operations for Business & Legal Affairs for the Women’s National Basketball Player’s Association (WNBPA); Shawn McDonald, SVP of Business & Legal Affairs for the MLB Players, Inc.; and Chelsey Antony, Senior Business Counsel for the National Football League Player’s Association (NFLPA) & NFL Players, Inc.

            To begin, Mr. Nelson asked each panelist to introduce themselves, and talk about their journeys that led them where they are in the sports law world. Two common threads emerged these introductions – becoming comfortable with taking “no” as an answer and working harder than the next person. Mr. McDonald discussed how for six years, “no” was the only answer he heard when networking and attempting to get a job in sports. It was only after dozens and dozens of attempts, and a meticulous organization of his networking efforts on excel that an opportunity emerged. Ms. Antony spoke about having to take a work opportunity at the same time as she began studying for the bar. Although it would have been acceptable and perhaps even common practice to put off such an opportunity to focus on bar prep, she chose to tackle it head on. Mr. Goldsholl, who ended up the sole legal mind at the WNBPA during his second year at law school, sacrificed his attendance to spend as much time surrounded by his work as possible.

            The panelists continued to stress the importance of hard work and persistence to succeed in the field of sports law. While each panelist went through their share of hardship to be where they are today, all impressed upon the audience the happiness and feelings of fulfillment that came with their role. A huge portion of their satisfaction arises from the nature of their role, working for the players themselves. As Mr. McDonald said, “you have to be willing to jump off the cliff for your players.” It became apparent from each of the panelist’s comments that building up a strong “war chest” was of paramount importance in negotiating the best Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the players. Identifying and leveraging all potential and existing value is an essential part of building and maintaining a powerful war chest.

            Mr. Goldsholl stressed the importance of being well informed about the landscape in which you practice, as well as the specifics of your specific organization. Consuming all knowledge possible is crucial, as many elements of sports law, although seemingly consistent across different organizations such as CBAs, can be dramatically different in their content as well as breadth of coverage. Exemplifying this, Mr. McDonald discussed a recent victory where he was able to secure increased flexibility for his players in terms of gaming and cementing a strong gambling policy in their CBA. On the other hand, Ms. Antony noted how her players’ CBA did not include any gambling provisions, and these were handled separately.

            With Mr. Nelson opening the panel up to questions from the audience, panelists were asked about emerging issues that Players Associations were keeping an eye towards. Mr. McDonald and Ms. Antony both discussed the changing and evolving world of amateurism, and collegiate level athletes. With recent developments in the NCAA and ever adaptive technologies, new ways to monetize athletes’ IPs beyond traditional licensing and scholarships are paving the way for a new amateur sporting world. Mr. Goldsholl mentioned the constant back and forth regarding wearable technologies and emphasized his concern and focus on health and safety for athletes, both physical and mental.

            Panelists then took some time to give their audience of law school students tips on how to succeed in the world of sports law. Ms. Antony provided students with four crucial elements of being successful in the field: (1) heart and passion; (2) talent and skill; (3) trust in ones’ instinct; and (4) a strong network. Mr. McDonald and Mr. Goldsholl reiterated Ms. Antony’s tenants, and emphasized the importance of being an expert in your craft that can discuss your trade at length once given the opportunity to be in the room with key figures.

             As the panel came to a close, the panelists reflected on the most rewarding parts of their roles. For Mr. Nelson, coming from a busy big law background, it was the increased time with his family that spoke the most to him. For Mr. Goldsholl, it was the interplay of navigating the society that exists in his occupation, understanding the league and sponsors and solving challenges to better support his players that brought him the most satisfaction. For Ms. Antony and Mr. McDonald, getting to do what they love, supporting the players and being surrounded by the world of sports, was the biggest source of pride and joy they could point to. 

Thank you to our amazing moderator, panelists, and attendees for making this year’s sports panel truly incredible!

Written by: Jean Joun
Jean is a 1L at Brooklyn Law School

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