gavel and books

In the Courtroom and On the Field

Leadership in Sports Law at NYLS

Nick Anderson, Matthew Gaeta, Hobie Harris

Matthew Gaeta ’24 Evening poses with Atlanta Braves’ Nick Anderson and Washington Nationals’ Hobie Harris.

Matthew Gaeta ’24 Evening was up late studying for his Evidence class when his phone started buzzing. It was 1:30 a.m., and the New York Law School Evening Division Student was about to get incredible news from his day job as an MLB agent: A player he represents had been called up to the major leagues. Gaeta booked a flight to Chicago and flew out the next morning, toting textbooks with him to study on the plane.

There’s no such thing as a “normal” day for Gaeta, who starts early in his office at One World Trade Center and ends with a few-block walk to NYLS’s Tribeca campus for evening classes. He’s working the phones constantly, negotiating with teams on behalf of his clients, landing marketing deals, communicating with front offices, talking to his players, scouting new talent to add to his roster, reviewing contracts, and doing a million other tasks to meet his clients’ needs.

Gaeta is one of many in the New York Law School community who are making a major impact as leaders in the sports world. Dawn Aponte ’03 serves as the Chief Administrator of Football Operations for the National Football League (NFL), Susan Cohig ’02 is the Executive Vice President for the NHL Club Business Affairs, Eric Levin ’98 is Vice President and Assistant General Counsel—Intellectual Property at NBA Properties, Inc., Michael Brady ’16 is Senior Associate Counsel—Global Partnerships at the National Basketball Association, and Kevin Manara ’06 is the former Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Las Vegas Raiders.

Samuel Porter ’09 is the Co-Managing Partner of Necaxa and the D.C. Pickleball Team. J. Martin Morgado III ’97 is the General Counsel & VP of Business Affairs at Sports Endeavors, LLC. And Marc Lasry ’84 is the former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The list goes on: Zygmunt Wilf ’74 is the Chairman and co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings and the majority owner of MLS's Orlando City. Vincent Viola ’83 is the owner of the Florida Panthers. Joe Plumeri ’15 (Hon.)—for whom the School’s Plumeri Center is named—is the co-owner of the Trenton Thunder. Countless other alumni, faculty, and students like Gaeta are serving as owners, counsel, agents, and more, navigating the complex area of sports law, and NYLS provides a foundation for our community members to lead the field.

That late night call wasn’t Gaeta’s first—in his 1L year, Gaeta was sitting in his second ever Contracts class when he got a similar call. One of the first players he’d ever signed had been called up. Gaeta finished class, went straight to the airport, hopped a flight to Colorado, watched his client pitch, and took a red eye back to make it to class the next day. “The life of an agent—it doesn’t ever stop,” he laughs. “But New York Law School is great about helping students balance their responsibilities. They recognize the obligations you have from a professional standpoint. If you show up to class, do the work, and put in the effort, they treat you like an adult.”

Gaeta was already an agent when he came to NYLS, but he knew law school would help him level up his career. Law school has helped him “think differently—more analytically,” he says, and also has given him the skills to “better dissect contracts and use negotiation tactics, whether it’s reading the bylaws and regulations to negotiating deals to even understand players’ daily needs like lease agreements.” He especially leans on skills learned in experiential learning classes, his Contracts classes, Legal Practice, Writing, and Intellectual Property courses. “All of these classes are intertwined,” he says.

His mediation, dispute, and resolution coursework has been especially critical, as his job often entails navigating tense negotiations between front offices and players. “When there are millions of dollars, a player’s career, or egos on the line, things can get heated,” he says.

“When our sports law students ask me who I root for, I always feel safest saying “New York,” says Anthony W. Crowell, Dean and President. “In a town that is synonymous with premier, domestic and international sports teams and events, there is no shortage of opportunity for NYLS students to learn the law, the business, and to develop the kind of leadership skills needed to make it big,” he says. “What makes our program extra special is that it’s not just about the business of sports, but also about the power of sports and sports figures to inspire and help transform communities, including through social justice programs and movements. In New York, you can get it all, and do it all.”

NYLS began a process of re-invigorating its sports law program in 2021. The School tapped Dan Lust, a nationally recognized leader in the field, to teach an introductory class—and this year added Advanced Sports Law to the curriculum with major support and collaboration from Dean Oral Hope and Dean Howard S. Meyers.

As a member of NYLS’s adjunct faculty, Professor Lust teaches these courses, giving a broad and comprehensive look at the complex universe and its inhabitants: commissioners, agents, players, managers, counsels, broadcasters, and so much more. (And, he brings more than a decade of experience and love for sports, starting with a job for the New York Giants that started in high school.)

The School’s sports law instruction takes an innovative and pragmatic approach to prepare students for real world experience. While sports law classes of the last few decades focus on a somewhat dry examination of antitrust, employment law, and intellectual property — without a clear sense of application within the sports world — NYLS’s popular sports courses focus on the “biggest issues in sports through the prism of being a lawyer,” Professor Lust says. That could include a broad variety of issues: litigation, arbitration, regulation, oversight, criminal defense, personal injury, real estate, bankruptcy, sports better, and yes, antitrust or intellectual property. The courses even cover legislation and the process of creating college sports laws.

The courses change every year to keep up with the sports world’s most pressing issues: Professor Lust even re-writes his syllabi each semester. It’s well in line with NYLS’s ethos as an innovative, cutting-edge school that always forecasts steps ahead to prepare lawyers of the future.

Erin Kearney

Erin Kearney ’10 Evening poses with Texas Rangers pride.

Across the country in Dallas–Fort Worth, Erin Kearney ’10 Evening starts her day with a to do list. But, the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club says with a laugh, “I never get any of it done.” It’s not a commentary on her efficiency: Kearney is a whirlwind of productivity, but unpredictability is part of the job—and a perk.

“That’s my favorite part of the job,” she says. “Every day is completely different.” She might be in meetings, doing work in her leadership or governance roles, responding to requests for help, executing contracts, or working with the ownership and executive members to deal with that very unpredictability that keeps Kearney highly engaged in her work.

Kearney didn’t start out in sports law per se—her work was mostly in the commercial mortgage lending market. When she had her daughter, she joined DLA Piper. The timing was ideal: It was a huge boom for building new stadiums, and teams were moving around the country. Their sports law team let her work remotely as long as she would review mortgages.

Kearney was working on a contract for the Rangers while at DLA Piper to help them open a new ballpark. She traveled to the Rangers’ main office for meetings, “and it was just one of those moments where you walk in the front door and you know that this is where you’re supposed to be,” she says. When they increased their headcount, Kearney interviewed for the job, left her firm, and joined the team in 2020.

Kearney remembers NYLS as the place where she met some of her lifelong, best friends, and she has advice for NYLS students who might be interested in following her path. She focuses on a need for “openness and realizing that sports law is not necessarily what you think,” she says. “We are truly generalists, and we cover every topic, from HR to insurance, to anything that you need to run a company,” she says. And she’s got one more: “Pay attention to your legal research class and take notes,” she quips.

Emerson Moore and Andrew Latack

Emerson S. Moore II ’99, Member of Board of Trustees, New York Law School and Former Chief People Officer, BSE, and Andrew Latack, Head of Legal, Klutch Sports sit on a panel at the Sports Law Symposium 2023.

Kris Franklin

Wallace Stevens Professor of Law Kris Franklin speaks at the 2023 Soccer Dispute Competition.

The Sports Law Society at NYLS is an opportunity for students to debate and discuss legal sports issues. It’s a wildly popular club with tons of participation, and students work together to bring in speakers throughout the year for panel discussions about current events or for professional development.

“The Sports Law Society has meant so much to me the last two years,” says incoming Society President Olivia Hellerich ’24. “I’ve met amazing people and made incredible connections both personally and professionally.”

In its tent-pole, yearly event, the Society hosts the Sports Law Symposium. This year’s event spanned two days, and it included panels covering name, image, and likeness; sports media; in-house counsel in sports; and sports gaming. Andrew Latack, Head of Legal at Klutch Sports, and Emerson Moore, Member of the NYLS Board of Trustees and Chief People Officer at BSE, provided the keynote panel.

The topics for the Society’s symposia are chosen with professional development in mind and an effort to help students navigate interviews on the job market, says Professor Lust, who advises the Society. “You don’t need to be able to talk about a case that’s 50 years old,” Lust says. “In an interview, you have to be able to talk shop.”

Another trademark event of the NYLS sports law program is the now-annual Soccer Dispute Competition, co-hosted with the Dispute Resolution Team, wherein competitors from law schools around the country hammer out the terms of a mock, soccer-related negotiation. The Competition—one of just a handful in the country—mirrors real-life scenarios, like player contracts, endorsement, ownership, and stadium construction. While the School’s competition team does compete around the country, it’s critical that NYLS host its own competition: Approaching its third year, the Competition elevates the School’s profile as a leader in sports law and allows the School to raise its profile.

From the introduction of the Soccer Dispute Competition, and the Advanced Sports Law course—a rare offering which creates a full year of sports law instruction for NYLS students—the sports law program at NYLS is always evolving, growing, and raising its profile.

“We’re ahead of the curve,” Professor Lust says. “We’re blazing a trail and doing things that are simply not being done anywhere else.”

In classes, extracurricular events, symposia, competitions, and more, NYLS is preparing the future generation of sports legal professionals. Beyond providing legal education, our School is committed to developing our students as leaders who will shape the field for generations to come.

“NYLS has been easily the biggest benefit to my professional career,” Gaeta says. “It’s opened doors that I didn't even know were there.”

NYLS Field Day

Students pose at our 2023 Field Day in Chelsea Park.

NYLS Take me out to the ball game event

Students tune in as the New York Yankees take on the San Francisco Giants on Opening Day 2023.

Dispatches From Our Sports World Alumni

Susan Cohig

Susan Cohig ’02, Executive Vice President, Club Business Affairs, NHL Enterprises, L.P.

“Our industry is always evolving, and live events and related programming continue to attract growing audiences. Related cutting-edge issues we navigate include shifts in technology and consumer behavior, which redefine the way fans engage with their favorite teams and players.

Some of the most important tools I gained from my NYLS experience include being able to listen carefully, effectively issue spot, and clearly communicate. I employ these skills every single day.”

Kevin Manara

Kevin Manara ’06, former senior NFL attorney and Las Vegas Raiders General Counsel

“NYLS offered classes in practical skills which I found particularly useful once I reached big firm life and then handled my own cases at the NFL. Classes like Lawyering, Trial Advocacy, and a 3L labor law class where we conducted mock CBA negotiations were all helpful in developing real-life skills that litigators need and you can't learn out of a textbook.”

Gabriel G. Matus

Gabriel G. Matus ’00, General Counsel, Excel Sports Management

“As a lawyer in the sports ecosystem—whether in talent representation, advising brands and properties, or otherwise—you have to stay sharp, informed, and on your toes. The LIV/PGA saga, NIL deregulation, the transfer portal, student athlete recruiting, retention and preparation for professional sports, the legalization of sports betting, the meteoric rise and collapse of crypto/NFTs, and athletes as content producers are just a few of the rapidly evolving areas that keep us very busy.”

Emerson Moore

Emerson S. Moore II ’99, former EVP, Chief People Officer, BSE Global (parent company of Barclays Center); NYLS Board of Trustees Member

One of the key things I learned while at NYLS is the importance of being able to relate to and engage with anyone and everyone. Establishing meaningful relationships at every level is paramount to success in any industry—but especially the sports law industry. You should never let your skills take you to heights and spaces where your relationships can’t sustain you.

J. Martin Morgado III

J. Martin Morgado III ’97, General Counsel & VP of Business Affairs, Sports Endeavors, LLC

“NIL is certainly at the tip of every sports lawyer's tongue. The cobbled-together patchwork of state laws governing the rights of college athletes in their own image and likeness has made compliance by brands challenging at best. The various NIL frameworks have resulted in the creation of an unfair playing field allowing colleges in states with more favorable regulation to one-up competitors in states with a stricter regime. It might be argued that such patchwork has led to less traditionally competitive universities being able to attract talent they would not have had access to before NIL; however, it’s not clear this was a result that was intentional. Other unintended consequences have been felt, leading to amended—and in some cases repealed—NIL legislation. Currently there is a hope, including at the NCAA, that Congress will step in to provide clarity at the federal level. I am not overly optimistic on that front—the federal government is usually not first to the loose ball. Lack of clarity typically counsels caution. All of this is to say: It’s challenging to create opportunities while managing risk when the guideposts aren’t clear, and that’s the state of affairs of NIL.”

Lori Wentworth Odierno

Lori Wentworth Odierno ’92, Head of Legal and Business Affairs, WME Sports, at Endeavor

“I’m keeping a close eye on college athletics. That business model is at a real crossroads; it’s facing multiple complex legal challenges involving employment, labor, antitrust, constitutional law, and other areas. There’s activity across all three branches of government, at the federal, state, and regulatory levels. There’s much more to come here.”

Samuel Porter

Samuel Porter ’09, Co-Managing Partner and Owner, Club Necaxa/DC Pickleball Team

“In the space that I’m in, an issue that’s garnering a lot of attention is who or what can own sports teams and leagues. There’s the Saudi PIF LIV Golf and PGA deal, and the PIF owns Newcastle in the EPL—and Adam Silver recently said that sovereign wealth funds will not be able to invest in the NBA. Private equity funds can now own stakes of NBA, MLS, MLB, and NHL teams. How does institutional money investing in sports over the coming years continue to evolve with ever increasing valuations and interest?

At NYLS, I learned to solve from as many different angles or points-of-view as possible. In complex deal-making and problem-solving, it’s extremely valuable to try to understand what all parties in the situation are trying to accomplish.”