[Ed. note: As you may recall, last month we solicited applications for the position of ATL’s sports columnist. We thank the many fine applicants who threw their hats into the ring.
Today we’re pleased to introduce you to this site’s new sportswriter: Marc Edelman, a sports lawyer and law professor. You can reach him directly by email (click here). And now, without further ado, we turn the floor over to Professor Edelman.]
As a young boy, I remember sitting with my father watching Super Bowl XXI. In that game, New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms completed 22-of-25 passes for 268 yards, leading my hometown G-Men to a 39-20 victory over John Elway’s Denver Broncos. At that moment, I knew that I would one day work in sports.
Flash forward 21 years. The Giants are back in the Super Bowl. Their then-famous center Bart Oates is now a practicing attorney, and I recently was named as a professor of sports law at New York Law School, Seton Hall University, and Manhattanville College. I am also the new sports columnist at Above the Law.
In the coming weeks, my column Sports and the Law will focus on issues involving the legal aspects of sports, including moral issues, labor policy, and antitrust policy (or lack thereof). This column will also discuss how lawyers can find jobs in the sports field.
Read the first column, after the jump.
With this being my first week, I thought I would start by profiling my favorite sports lawyer of all time, John Montgomery Ward (Columbia Law, 1885). I know, you probably never even heard of him.
Monte Ward—as he was more affectionately known—was one of the great men in pro baseball because he was one of the few brave enough to stand up for his colleagues. Ward was a National League baseball player who burst onto the scene in the late 1870s, playing first for the Providence Grays and then the New York Giants. In 1885, which was midway through his playing career, Ward graduated from Columbia Law School. Before retiring as a player in 1894, Ward became the only player in major-league history to win 100 games as a pitcher and collect 2,000 hits as a batter. For this, Ward was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.
But it was Ward’s work off the field that really distinguished him. Way back in 1885, before federal law even provided adequate protection for worker organizing, Ward formed the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players (BPBP), an early version of baseball’s players union. In doing so, Ward risked that owners would boycott him from baseball for his conduct. However, Ward always put the greater good above his own plight.
When the BPFP failed to effectuate sufficient change, Ward then shifted gears and formed the Players League— a league owned by professional baseball players themselves, which challenged the National League for market share. Unfortunately, the Players League was unable to raise sufficient capital, and it too folded after just one season. However, again Ward was trying to give players a better opportunity (remember, in those days, player salaries were capped at around $2,000/season).
Even after the Players League’s demise, Ward never stopped advocating for players’ rights. For many years after retiring, Ward continued to represent professional baseball players in their disputes against the National League. Ward then briefly served as an official of the Federal League—an upstart baseball league that briefly attempted to compete against the National League and American League. Unfortunately, all of the Federal League teams were eventually bought out by the existing National and American Leagues, save for one club from Baltimore which eventually brought and lost an antitrust suit against the leagues (Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes found that MLB was not interstate commerce, and therefore was exempt from antitrust laws).
Ward’s willingness to place himself on the line for the betterment of his peers would be rare today, not only in sports, but also in law, as well as in most other professions.
Even if you are not a sports fan, it is worth noting the similarities between junior attorneys in big law and rookie pro athletes. In both professions, salaries today are huge to the outside world, meaning the outside world expects you to be grateful for the paycheck. But workers in both professions also accept tremendous tradeoffs in terms of personal freedom. I learned this the hard way, when as a first-year associate at Skadden, Arps, I was told by a simple phone call (not even an office visit) that my life would be uprooted to Washington, DC, for a six-to-eight week document review. Much like a rookie Major League Baseball player who had just been traded unexpectedly, I simply accepted my reassignment without much thought about the implications on family or personal life.
If Monte Ward had been a Skadden attorney in 2003, he would not have let this kind of treatment happen without pushback. Ward would have suggested that all the junior associates who were uprooted from New York to Washington band together and encourage partners to find a way of running the document review efficiently without wreaking havoc on family or personal lives. Ward would have risked himself for the team, even if he ultimately took the fall for his advocacy.
We all could learn a lot from Monte Ward.
Once again, it is my absolute pleasure to join the Above the Law team. In honor of the great John Montgomery Ward, Esq., I plan to use my column as a pulpit to effectuate change, both in the sports and the legal worlds. I encourage you to use the comments section below to assist with the same.
And, from the voice of the little boy still inside of me 21 years later, Go Giants!