A sports law professor and attorney with Sparks Wilson Borges Brandt & Johnson, PC (Colorado Springs, CO), William Robers specializes in the representation of sports entities, athletes and coaches in contract negotiations, corporate governance, compliance, grievances, and eligibility issues. What follows is an exclusive interview.
What were the circumstances that caused you to gravitate to sports law?
I have always been interested in sports law. I wanted to be a sports agent while in college and law school. After law school and earning my MBA, I joined Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, in Los Angeles, in the corporate department. I handled complex mergers and acquisitions. I pushed the firm to do more sports representation, but the older partners did not see the value in sports. After five years, I left the firm and opened my own shop in Orange County, California. I was a registered NFLPA Player-Agent, representing athletes and coaches and professional sports executives, as well as doing general legal work. In two years, I was recruited to join Holme Roberts & Owen, in its sports transactional department, under now-USOC CEO, Scott Blackmun. I moved to Colorado Springs, and began representing Olympic Sports, executives, Anti-Doping Agency, and other sports organizations. There is no “sports law” per se, but rather I have expertise in a number of different disciplines, and am able to apply them to my sports clients. I also teach Sports Law to undergrad students at the University of Colorado — Colorado Springs. Finally, I have been an NCAA football official for a number of years, and have worked as an expert in officiating training and liability issues, as well as sports injuries.
Within the sports law field, what are your areas of expertise?
My areas of expertise are in training of officials, injury liability in sports, contracts (athlete and organization), intellectual property (trademarks and copyrights, as well as software and other IP licensing), finance, marketing, defamation, mergers & acquisitions, facility issues, liability waivers, and anything involving a sports organization.
What is the most significant sports law case that you’ve been involved in?
It is difficult for me to talk about significant sports law cases. I am not a litigator. Therefore, most of my sports work is for clients that are confidential. As for expert witness work, I have generally worked with counsel prior to trial. I am extremely ethical, and will not compromise my ethics for anything. Therefore, since I am not willing to be a “hired gun” to say whatever the counsel wants, counsel generally finds others for trial. My background and experience is extensive, and my credibility is unblemished, which I intend to continue. If I agree with a case, a litigator will find no better or more credible expert than me.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a sports law professor?
The most rewarding thing is seeing the difference between the beginning of the semester, and the end. Many kids come in saying they had no interest in “sports law,” and only took it as a requirement. Most come out saying they’ve learned more in that semester than any other class. I love continuing to hear from students after they get into the sports workforce.
Do you have a pedagogical philosophy when it comes to your academic practice?
In general, I try to use a Socratic method, albeit for undergrads. I ask lots of questions, and want to make sure kids are prepared and able to speak about any issue. I also love to do Mock Trials with them, so that they can see what it is like to argue for a client with which you may not agree (they get to pick the cases, but not which side they want to represent). I like using a lot of videos from actual sports issues that match up with what we are studying on that day. It helps make it clear how these things are relevant. Finally, I like to bring in outside speakers, experts in the industry, to talk about their experiences. I like the kids being able to see people actually practicing in the sports law world. Speakers have included, Travis Tygart, CEO of the USADA; Chris McCleary, General Counsel of the USOC; Rana Dershowitz, former General Counsel of the USOC and now General Counsel of Vail Resorts; USOC Ombudsman; USADA counsels; NFL agents; Mountain West Conference attorneys, and others.
Do you teach in the fall, spring and/or summer?
I teach in fall and spring. One class per semester, Monday nights from 7:30-10:05.
Do you use a text? If so, which one?
I do use a text. Mitten, Davis, Shropshire, Osborne and Smith, Sports Law: Governance and Regulation (Aspen College).