I Speak Out for Athletes Everywhere

As many of you know, I’m not a fan of the wide world of sports. But I am a fan of labor unions, and in that capacity, I have noticed that there have been quite a few lockouts over the past couple of years—four in 14 months, to be exact. I assumed that was because of the general shittiness of the sports bosses. It is, but there’s another factor, as Dave Zirin reports here: the shittiness of the sports bosses’ lawyers.

A law firm called Proskauer Rose is now representing management in all four major men’s sports leagues, the first time in history one firm has been hired to play such a unified role. In practice, this has meant that in four sets of negotiations with four very different economic issues at play, we get the same results: lockouts and a stack of union complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. It’s been great for owners and awful for players, fans, stadium workers and tax payers.

Proskauer Rose partner Howard Ganz represents the NBA and Major League Baseball, and fellow-partner Bob Batterman has led negotiations for the NFL and the NHL. As Sports Business Daily reported, “Batterman and Ganz provide advice on strategy, as well as on issues that can emerge during talks, such as the legality of using replacement players.”

Proskaur Rose’s love affair with corporate power is not confined to representing professional sports owners. They boast on their website of having “one of the world’s pre-eminent private equity practices.” They are Bain, if Bain was smart enough to remain in the shadows. The firm’s other prize clients are a Murderers Row of Big Oil titans including BP America, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. Incidentally, this culture of representing polluters and union busters with pride and without societal concern seems reflected in the firm’s internal culture. Proskauer Rose is now being sued by their former Chief Financial Officer Elly Rosenthal, who accused the law firm of firing her following sixteen years as CFO after she took leave for breast cancer treatment. (Remember Elly Rosenthal the next time you see the NFL festooning its players in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.)

As it happens, I know Proskauer Rose quite well. Years ago, when I led the grade strike at Yale, the administration hired Proskauer to represent them in an unfair labor practices suit we brought against the university (Yale had tried to break the strike by threatening us with mass firings, expulsion, which would have meant deportation for international students, and negative letters of recommendation.) My most vivid memory of that case was of the lead attorney Saul Kramer (the other one was this tool) yelling at me at the witness stand, reading aloud statements I had made in a meeting where I called for massive disruption—I think I may have even used the word anarchy—of the campus.

Proskauer, it should be noted, played the leading role in making sure that faculty at private universities could not be unionized. That eventually became a Supreme Court case, and old Saul was involved in that one too.

Anyway, these guys are now trying to screw over football players, basketball players, hockey players, and more. Again, not my cup of tea, but they’re workers and it’s a union. And though some people think they’re too rich to be in a union, as Bhaskar Sunkara noted over the summer, that kind of faux populism can put you in some bad company.

It’s a struggle between management and labor and management has made plenty of money milking a player like Lin for all he was worth—international media interest, jersey and ticket sales, the Cablevision deal, not to mention that without him the Knicks might not have even made the playoffs.

Big salary haters get it wrong when they factor the fans into the equation. Talking about Jeremy Lin’s “greed,” acting like he’s taking something from someone else when he’s got a motherfucking family to feed, may be a good way to sound like a populist. But it actually puts you in the operative position of siding with an owner who is way richer than Lin will ever be. That’s the kind of populism that put Bush in office.

Say we do manage to lower player salaries or restrict their mobility—who’s saying we’re going to get lower ticket prices or anything but higher margins for already wealthy owners?

So what’s to gain from the politics of resentment? It’s the same type of politics that fuels anger at teachers, firefighters, and other public sector employees. “Why them?” is the petty loser’s version of “Good for them. Why not me?”

And if Lin’s still earning a bit too much for our tastes, instead of waiting for him to funnel his bounty into the community and name youth basketball camps after himself, why not just tax his (and his boss’) income at a higher rate? We can take some of the money, trustee our favorite sports teams, and give away shares to players and fans jointly.

Lower ticket prices, better swag, less hating.

Don’t hate the sportsman; hate the sports.  And Proskauer Rose.

H/t Gordon Lafer for having put these pieces together and alerted me to Zirin’s piece; Gordon was also one of the leaders of our union drive and the driving force behind our ULP suit against Yale. If it weren’t for him, we’d have never had a suit.


  1. Glenn Adler October 22, 2012 at 4:26 pm | #

    Great story. I’m sure you held your own on the stand, but I’m hoping that in last year’s negotiations between the owners and NFLPA Saul Kramer tried getting all up in Scott Fujita’s or Brandon Moore’s faces.

  2. Cavoyo October 22, 2012 at 5:11 pm | #

    Another thing to remember about athlete salaries is that sports have a high risk of causing injuries. The average NFL career lasts less than three years because of injuries. The salaries athletes are paid help offset this, like hazard pay.

  3. Gaurav Khanna October 22, 2012 at 10:43 pm | #

    Sorry to hear that you got berated in court by someone hired by my alma mater … not Yale’s finest hour by any means. Anyways, thanks for another great post. It reminded me of an article I recently saw in the NY Times that you may be interested in:


    • Lester Barnwell October 27, 2012 at 10:55 am | #

      What a surprise. The coelenterate “professor” finds yet another easy target that nearly everyone hates, and issues a tepid tirade against that target.

      Corey, how did you expect litigation to proceed? Like Perry Mason TV shows?

      Thanks for reminding us you’re a meritocrat who attended Yale. That’s mighty superior of you, and awfully ironic when viewed in context of your adopting a victim status in that personalized “memory” of courtroom witness testimony.

      You’re so brave, attacking those easy targets like a gnat flying around a giraffe’s ankles.

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