They couldn't have timed it better. An NBA star is on trial for
felony sexual assault. Another is to be retried for manslaughter.
An NHL player stands charged with trying to hire a hit man. An
NFL running back is alleged to have helped arrange a cocaine
deal. (All of the above have pleaded not guilty.) And BALCO
clients are all over the news. At the Sports Lawyers Association
30th annual conference last week at the Baltimore Hyatt, there
was no shortage of ripe topics.
The premise sounds like the setup for a joke: What happens when
you put 400 lawyers, agents and team executives in a room? The
punch line: It yields three days of spirited and congenial
discussion. Agents who usually engage in knock-down, drag-outs
commiserated about the profession's subterranean reputation.
Union leaders shared a panel with management. Marvin Miller
delivered a manifesto on labor relations and got an ovation from
big league executives. "We can talk without worrying about
posturing," says agent Craig Fenech.
The inaugural SLA conference in 1975 was a sober, Blackberry-free
affair, a handful of agents discussing estate planning, tax
shelters and deferred annuities. The pace picked up a few years
later when Mercury Morris spoke. Then serving time on a cocaine
charge, Morris came to the Fort Lauderdale hotel with a prison
guard. "When he said, 'I'm happy to be here,'" says agent Jack
Mills, "he meant it."
This year's discussion docket ranged from testing for designer
drugs, to ethical considerations when athletes run afoul of the
law, to negotiating nine-figure TV-rights deals. Fresh off their
defenses of Jayson Williams and Ray Lewis, respectively, lawyers
Billy Martin and Ed Garland shared some strategies. The most
entertaining segment was Tulane professor Gary Roberts's recap of
sports jurisprudence in the past year. Who knew that when Chiefs
coach Dick Vermeil gave his oenophile kicker, Morten Andersen, a
$500 bottle of cabernet sauvignon he was violating the salary
cap? Or that the NASCAR fan who sent 530,000 e-mails to a Boston
TV station that had replaced a race with a Red Sox game could
incur a $2,000 fine, $36,000 in restitution and six months of
home confinement? "You'd be pressed," says Richard Bloch, a
sports arbitrator, "to think of an area of the law more wide
ranging than sports."
May 30, 2004
--L. Jon Wertheim