Today, sports lawyers are commonly known as sports agents, and are hired by professional athletes and coaches to be their legal representatives. They represent sports figures in the negotiating of contracts, commercial endorsements, public relation events, and financial planning and management. They help manage and maintain the career and public persona of major sports figures while negotiating employment and sponsorships to lengthen the careers of athletes and coaches. The hiring of a sports agent by a professional athlete or coach is common in the sporting arena of today, but that has not always been the case. We must journey back through history to learn when sports lawyers became a significant part of an athlete’s career.
Legal sports representation dates to 1925. A professional football player named Red Grange was the first football athlete to hire a sports lawyer to negotiate his football contract. The legal negotiation of Red Grange’s contract was performance based and the number of fans that his football performance attracted to the game. Since that time, sports lawyers and agencies have evolved and grown into yielding multi-million-dollar contracts for athletes and coaches that they represent.
One of the most infamous sports lawyers was hired by a young and upcoming golfer named Arnold Palmer. Palmer hired attorney Mark McCormack to manage his athletic career during the 1960’s. During the timeframe Mark McCormack managed Arnold Palmer’s business career, he transformed how sponsors worked with athletes. McCormack specialized in the sports management and marketing of the professional athletes that he represented and was known for taking the legal representation in sports to a whole new level. McCormack broadened the boundaries and borders of athletic endorsements and broke through prejudice barriers, because of his belief system. He believed that positive publicity and the popularity of the athlete, despite culture or language, goes beyond the limits of the sport. Mark McCormack founded the International Management Group and became the first sports lawyer to gain endorsements of clothing, motor oil, and watches for his athletes. McCormick was a sports agent pioneer who blazed a trail and left his mark in sport’s history.
Sports lawyers throughout history have made life-changing impacts on the athletes that they represent and continue to have an impact today.