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Sports law ‘burgeoning industry,’ prof asserts

If you were to ask Michael McCann what he does for a living, the answer would be simple: He is a law professor. Where he teaches is a little more complicated.

For now, McCann is a visiting professor at the Boston College Law School. Starting next semester, he will be a tenure-track professor of law at the University of Vermont’s school of law.

And before now, he was a distinguished visiting hall of fame professor of law at Mississippi College. He will return to Jackson each summer to teach a sports law class.

Sports law is where McCann has become a national figure — writing sports law-related columns for Sports Illustrated’s website and appearing on news networks as a sports law analyst.

Beyond the image

Mention “sports law” to the average person, and the immediate connotation is that of a sports agent, who brokers contracts and endorsement deals for professional athletes, multi-million-dollar arrangements that make the athlete and the agent outrageously rich. The profession received glamorous treatment in the hit ‘90s movie “Jerry Maguire,” which starred Tom Cruise.

“But what people don’t realize is that is without question the most competitive area in sports law,” McCann said. “And very few people end up making serious money doing it.”

While becoming a super agent is the dream, the reality is that most attorneys who specialize in sports law are not celebrities.

Some are compliance specialists who work for universities and ensure athletes are in compliance with the thousands of rules the NCAA uses to govern college sports. Compliance officers are charged with educating university boosters on the dos and don’ts of donating money.

“I think sports law is a burgeoning industry, and there are a lot of layers to it,” McCann said. “The sports agent part gets romanticized. But there are a lot of jobs available on the compliance side, in sports litigation, and even though a firm may not specialize in this, a lot of work is done representing athletes who get into disputes, whether they are criminal or civil.

“Or for example, nobody ever thinks of working for something like a minor league baseball team. But there are a lot of dimensions of sports law that can supply jobs. Not everybody can become an agent. It’s simple supply and demand.”

Making headlines

Two athletes who have become prime sports law case studies are former Major League Baseball (MLB) players Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom are ensnared in the steroid dilemma MLB has fought since the early part of this decade. Bonds has been indicted on perjury charges related to a federal grand jury’s investigation into steroid use in baseball. Clemens has not been indicted, but is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether he lied to a congressional committee earlier this year during a hearing inquiring into the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in baseball.

Clemens has been widely vilified since he was named in the Mitchell Report, which laid out the results of an investigation by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell into who was using PEDs and where they got them. The report did not have government authority or the power to charge anyone with a crime. But the court of public opinion has not been kind to Clemens. He has sued his former personal trainer, who provided most of the details contained in the Mitchell Report.

“Clemens may well have done all the things people think he’s done,” McCann said. “But who is going to write about him not being indicted? Probably not many people.” As for the possibility of Clemens being indicted, McCann says it’s hard to tell exactly, but adds, “it’s unlikely because they haven’t done it yet.”

Bonds has been indicted, and has hired a veritable army of attorneys to represent him in his perjury trial that starts in March. McCann points out that the evidence against Bonds is far more damning than that against Clemens.

“But a perjury conviction is extremely difficult to get,” McCann said. “You have to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly lied under oath, and that he understood every question asked of him by whoever was asking it. Bonds’ defense from day one was that he didn’t know the substances his trainer gave him were illegal, and that he misunderstood the questions from prosecutors in the grand jury hearing. Clearly, though, Clemens is not in the same legal jeopardy as Bonds is.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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