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Sports Law - Advising Sports Clients on Social Activism

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Sports Law - Advising Sports Clients on Social Activism

This course is designed to give the participant an insight into the reasons behind athlete activism and taking stances on political and social stances in the sports world, as well as how to advise sports-clients on the legal and practical implications involved in choosing to take a stance – no matter the type of statement to be made.


Brandon Leopoldus
Leopoldus Law, APC


Brandon Leopoldus:  Welcome to sports law, advising sports clients on social activism. I'm your host Brandon Leopoldus, the founder of Leopoldus Law, APC in Los Angeles California, the solutions firm for those in the sports and entertainment space. And this course is designed to give you the listener, an insight into the reasons behind athlete activism and taking stances on political and social stances in the sports world, as well as how to advise sports clients when they choose to take a stance no matter what that stance is and no matter how they take it. We've all heard the quote "shut up and dribble", in today's society, athletes have a platform, and that has always been the case. Athletes have always taken a stand on issues that are important to them and that are in the public eye.

Looking back, we take a look at Jackie Robinson, the man who broke baseball's color barrier, that was considered a stance on a political issue of race relations, civil rights. And some people said they needed to keep baseball segregated between Caucasian players and African-Americans who were playing in the Negro leagues. Jim brown, the hall of fame running back of the Cleveland Browns was often an advocate for civil rights and other issues that he found important to him. Perhaps most famously is Muhammad Ali, the famed boxer and social activist who refused to enter the Vietnam War due to a religious exemption. Dr. John Carlos and Tommie Smith during the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City wore black gloves and raised a fist and bowed their hands for the National Anthem to bring light onto human rights and the treatment of black Americans to the forefront. Arthur Ashe was a noted activist in the tennis world, that also included Billie Jean King and others in various sports, including most recently, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf who refused to stand during the National Anthem while he played his NBA career, most notably for the Denver Nuggets. And Colin Kaepernick, and Megan Rapinoe are other notable athletes that have taken social stances and political stances on issues facing them and society in general.

Now, taking these stances also requires them to face the consequences for their political and social stances. Oftentimes, it may result in the loss of sponsorships. For example, when you take a look at a player such as Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos, he knelt for the National Anthem back in 2016, and he lost some local sponsorships including with a car dealership in the Denver Metro area, despite being a very popular player, it wasn't palatable for his endorsers, and he lost that revenue from sponsorships. We also see that athletes face damage to their public image, athlete activism oftentimes results in some backlash. Sometimes we see that when athletes do take certain political and social stances, that their public image is harmed even if that changes over time, for example Muhammad Ali when he refused to serve in Vietnam, he faced immense outrage from the public in the United States. However, over time, Mohammed Ali became one of the most iconic Americans to have ever lived.

Another consequence is the alienation of a fan base. Oftentimes when you decide to take a social stance, you will become a polarized figure. If you think about Colin Kaepernick, for example, he has alienated some fans who may have been football fans, may have been Colin Kaepernick fans, and they may have rooted for his San Francisco 49ers, until he decided to take action by kneeling for the National Anthem, oftentimes that will polarize your fan base, and the outraged fan base is often the most vocal. It also results in the loss of future on-field contracts. This is another thing that happened with Colin Kaepernick, where the 49ers looked to trade him to the Denver Broncos and that deal was nixed. We see that Colin Kaepernick hasn't played football in a number of years simply because, and it seems to be the case, that he has been "blackballed" in the National Football League, despite his immense on-field talent.

You also see Curt Flood as an example, Curt Flood, of course, we had talked about in a previous CLE presentation who went against the reserve system that baseball had set up, and that was pre-free agency where the team that drafted you or initially signed you, held your rights regardless of what you wanted. And there was no free agency. Curt Flood had been traded and he didn't want to leave St. Louis and challenged that system. And instead, it was looked at rather than just a legal challenge but a political and social movement and Curt Flood lost significant on-field opportunities.

It's not just about the on-field opportunities, oftentimes there's a loss of future opportunities, not just on the field, although that's some of it, but you also see sponsors that back away from athletes that are lightning rods, that's often because they don't want to alienate their customer base. Oftentimes athlete activists face other issues where the sponsors don't want them to be involved in a political debate about a specific product. As you can imagine, if you have an athlete activist involved with your company, it can spark some backlash. For example, the Colin Kaepernick situation with Nike, once Colin Kaepernick, after several years of being out of the public eye in endorsement opportunities had a new Nike commercial launched, and that resulted in some people burning their pairs of Nike shoes saying that they would never buy Nike again. While Nike didn't suffer the financial consequences because people did buy Nike shoes, they did face some public backlash from some parts of the community.

One additional consequence of athletes speaking their minds on political and social issues is the additional stress that that brings. As a professional athlete, it takes a immense focus in order to get their most out of their athletic ability on the field, but that added stress places an additional burden on them that can't just go away when you put the helmet on, or you put the sneakers on your feet, it carries with you throughout the day. The media asks questions about it, it weighs on your family. And those athletes that have kids often can be bullied and can face consequences at school from teachers, school staff and other kids. There's also public backlash. We often see that people do not see athletes as individuals, they see them as a caricature of individuals. So the public backlash can often be harsh, especially on social media and it can be without context.

This of course raises safety issues. As we've discussed in a previous CLE, athletes are one of the few jobs that have themselves televised when they're at work. People know when you are not at home and people and fans expect access to players regardless of who they are. This creates situations where oftentimes when athletes are in the public, they will be asked more about their political and social stances if they're an activist rather than their on-field success or typical questions that go with athletes. More than just autographs, oftentimes people will bring up their political or social views that differ in order to have a viral moment. Now there are also benefits for speaking up and making your political or social stance known as a athlete or sports client. There's often new sponsorship and endorsements that can come your way. It may not replace the income from previous sponsors, but there are companies that are looking for those athletes taking a stand, regardless of where you are on the political or social spectrum. There are new opportunities, often in the form of public speaking to like-minded groups in order to lobby Congress, in order to lobby for more rights and to become a political or social activist or community organizer. Speaking up for your political and social stances for some also build self-confidence. It gives them a sense of purpose outside of the sport. Oftentimes, these benefits out weigh what the negative consequences are.

And finally, it helps athletes become community leaders. As we all know a sports career, at least on the field can be very, very short, but as a community leader, that can last the rest of their lives. And leaders and leadership skills are hard for many people to develop. So as those are developed, it becomes more and more important for anybody that's involved to actually utilize those skills. Now there are also considerations for when you have a sports client that is not athlete. Some sports clients are teams. Some are owners, some are endorsement companies and other suppliers within the sports space. It's equally as important to weigh those benefits and detriments, and the other things that we'll talk about throughout the CLE to figure how those affect and if they're a benefit or a detriment to your sports client. Whether you're a team owner that may also happened to serve in Congress, as we saw most recently with Kelly Loeffler who is a United States Congressman from Georgia and owned a WNBA team, her political stances did not align with her teams and that caused some friction. We've seen front office personnel take political and social stances as well. Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson was often seen as a political or social activist when he was trying to put the best team forward, but also wanted to make a change in society.

Regardless of your sports client's role in the sports space, these are some things you need to consider, but we take a look in this CLE from the perspective of the athlete because it's probably the easiest way for us to analyze this specific topic. We're going to be talking about a lot of different political and social stances that have been taken, and we are not going to make a value judgment on whether they are good, bad or indifferent. We're going to look at some that worked out for athletes and some that didn't. We're going to take a look at the venue that the speech and stances were taken. And whether you agree that athletes use the right place to do this and the right words and are on the right side of history, that is not a conversation for us here. Instead, we put this out for you to help you analyze how to actually advise your clients, and we'll go through that at the end of this CLE, and understand that it's not about necessarily your feelings and your beliefs, but it's about how you advise a client when they choose to make their voice heard on these lightning rod topics.

First, the voice of athletes has always been political and professional. Athletes have spoken out on a wide variety of issues from politics to a quality religion, you name it, they've spoken about it. If we look at it, let's start with war. Muhammad Ali notably had a stance about war where he would not serve due to a religious objection to it. But then we have other athletes such as notable NFL player, Pat Tillman, who left the National Football League to go fight after 9/11. We've seen many other players, whether it's Ted Williams, famed Hall of Fame baseball player who fought in World War II, leaving his job as a Boston Red Sox great to go fight in World War II or other players who have either fought in war or have been in the military. One notable example is Nate Boyer who played for the Seattle Seahawks and came out of the University of Texas as a long snapper for the Seattle Seahawks. Now a marine, he was the one that urged Colin Kaepernick to take a knee rather than sit on the bench during the National Anthem. He's a vocal advocate of the 1st Amendment and Colin Kaepernick's right to take a knee and why he did that. But he's also

We've also talked about voting rights. This is an issue that has long been an area where athletes have voiced their opinion, whether it was Jackie Robinson or other notable names in the civil rights era, or LeBron James most recently with voter suppression legislation. We hear a lot from athletes on the issue of voting and not just the issue of voting, but also who to vote for. Often athletes are sought for their endorsement simply because they are notable figures that a lot of people follow. Many athletes try and avoid the political spotlight because we've seen negative backlash, not just with LeBron James, but with Tom Brady and having a Make America Great Again hat in his locker. Tom Brady does not voice a lot of political opinions, however, when that hat was seen in his locker during a media interview, he faced significant public backlash for his relationship to former President Donald Trump.

We also see athletes voice their opinion on things like race relations. We had talked about Jackie Robinson. We had briefly touched on Dr. John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the 1968 Olympic games. We've heard from athletes like Arthur Ashe who always talked about civil rights. We heard from Billie Jean King on similar issues. We've heard from a wide variety of athletes, race relations is a big topic in sports and probably one of the big reasons is because there is a disproportionate number of African-Americans that play professional sports as compared to society. Caucasian athletes, Latino athletes, and athletes from around the world also play professional sports. But when you look at a league like the National Football League where well over half of the players in the National Football League are African-American, you're going to hear this topic be brought up because they have a platform to speak from their experience.

We've also seen religion be an area that athletes have spoken out on. We had mentioned Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf who converted to Islam during his NBA career. He was a tremendous player, and after his conversion, he decided that he was not going to stand for the National Anthem, and this was perhaps the first athlete of the modern era to do this. It caused significant backlash. And after detailed conversations with the NBA and the NB Players Association, he decided that he would stand and silently pray during the National Anthem. Now, when he did this in the early 1990s, this was not understood nearly as well as it is today and he faced significant, significant backlash.

We also see other players in other sports such as Sean Green, a Jewish ballplayer in Major League Baseball, notably played for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he would take off some Jewish holidays because of his religious beliefs. Same thing could be said for Sandy Koufax before him. We talk about sexual orientation as a area that athletes have spoken out on, including Martina Navratilova of the tennis world. Now Navratilova, one of the greatest tennis players to ever live had a platform and still has that platform as she continues to speak out on that topic. We see not just sexual orientation be talked about, but also equality. We had mentioned Billie Jean King earlier from the tennis world where she famously beat Bobby Riggs. Billie Jean King has always talked about equality between the sexes and in general. But also equality today is oftentimes talked about pay disparity and the U.S. Women's National team is perhaps the best example of political speech or social stance being discussed in the sports world.

U.S. Women's National Soccer team famously had a collective bargaining agreement that paid them less than the men's team despite their dominance on the world stage and popularity within the United States. Now that fight continues, but the U.S. Women's National team members have not backed down from this fight. Now that certainly includes Miss Rapinoe who has been a vocal advocate, but each and every one of those U.S. Women's National team members has made the conscious decision to fight for what they believe in. We also take a look at athletes voicing and bringing rise to oppression. Most recently in the 2021 Olympics, Raven Saunders of the United States won a gold medal, and she put her arms in the shape of an X on the podium really to just bring light to oppression around the world and within the United States. While this was a shocking thing for some people, others, especially in the sports world have seen podium protest become something that is quite regular.

We also see other issues that have been brought up from different players and teams alike. In one notable example, after some legislation that went through the Arizona state legislature, the players of the Phoenix Suns team decided they were going to wear their low Suns jerseys during a playoff game to bring attention to what was going on in Arizona and how much they disagreed with the legislation. We also saw the WNBA team in Atlanta start to wear T-Shirts asking that people vote their Congresswoman out, who just happened to be their team owner. We see a lot of issues get brought up, whether it's politics, religion, sexual orientation, or just equality in general. And it's very important to understand that these topics aren't going to go away. Shut up and dribble might be a way for people to voice their opposition to what athletes are doing or the place that they are doing it, but you have to remember that anybody that has a platform is likely to speak their mind.

Backlash has also followed athletes taking a stance on certain issues. It's affected playing careers, we had mentioned Curt Flood. Muhammad Ali didn't get to box for a number of years and had his heavyweight title belts stripped. Dr. John Carlos and Tommie Smith were stripped of their Olympic metals and banned from the USA team. Colin Kaepernick, of course, no longer plays in the National Football League despite his insistence that he remains in shape several years after his last professional football snap.

The rise in social media has definitely impacted this topic, the shut up and dribbles, the stick to sports, the I didn't pay you for your political opinion so go out and play and calls for being terminated or calling them "sons of bitches" are all parts of social media and the viral "gotcha culture" that we live in today. It's not going to go away, so we need to understand a little bit more about that. But with the rise of social media, it also means that context can often be taken out of these type of stances. So athletes that are going to make a stance need to understand that the reaction in the way they do it, in the words that they use, in the medium that they choose may end up being a viral meme and the words and the message may get distorted simply because somebody has a funny response to a social media posting of an athlete trying to make their voice and opinion be heard, or simply because somebody has cut up a video into a funny TikTok video in response. It's very important for us to all remember that anybody with a platform can reach a lot of people, but that means that a lot of people have the response and the ability to respond in a negative or very positive way.

Well, as lawyers, we need to understand what those legal claims are and what some of the ramifications can be, because otherwise, we're just talking about some gossip that's happened in the sports world. We need to understand when you're advising sports clients, what some of the legal claims are, what some of those ramifications are in our sports world and how we need to approach these things with our clients. First thing that we want to take a look at is breach of contract. Oftentimes, if we have a athlete that's going to take a political or social stance, they may lose those endorsement dollars. We had talked about Brandon Marshall, we had talked about Colin Kaepernick, we've talked about a lot of others. That includes Tim Tebow who did a focus on the family ad against abortion in the middle of the Superbowl.
So what we'd look at is for a breach of contract case should they lose other sponsors due to some speech on specific topics or a political stance. And that would fall under what's called a "morality clause". Typically, a morality clause prohibits an athlete or an endorsed individual, whether it's a social media influencer and entertainer or an athlete from doing certain things. And if those certain things are done, then the endorser can terminate the contract. For example, oftentimes morality clauses have carve-outs, so if somebody is arrested, if somebody has caught drunk driving, if they've been convicted of a crime or they have said something racially insensitive or something bad about the individual sponsor, then that contract can terminate. It makes sense that a endorser would not want to have to, for example, put Ray Rice, a former NFL running back who'd famously punched his wife in an elevator, from having to put him on products and market him after that situation, right?

So his endorsement deals were typically canceled due to a morality clause issue that would be under breach of contract. Two, a breach of contract case may come up if the purpose is frustrated. Now this might seem a little unusual for you contract lawyers are litigators out there, but the frustration of purpose, meaning that the contract just can't be complied with anymore due to a change in the circumstances may very well occur if an athlete is not playing the sport anymore. Oftentimes, endorsement contracts have a requirement that the athlete is playing on a certain team or they're playing a certain sport, but also that they are still marketable. And if an athlete has made a polarized stance, for example, if they go out and start speaking about why one race shouldn't have the same rights as the others, and those types of really controversial opinions are voiced, it may create a frustration of purpose or a change in the circumstance of what an athlete is able to do for an endorser.

And the third thing for a breach of contract claim that might arise is the reduction or a suspension of the name, image, and likeness usage. We talked about that just a little bit ago about Ray Rice, the man who punched his wife in an elevator while he was playing football for the Baltimore Ravens. Typically, if a morality clause issue has been triggered while the endorsement company is able to investigate a little more and oftentimes they will turn that over to the league for the league discipline. If there is going to be that morality clause period or investigation period, there will be that reduction or suspension of the athlete being used in those marketing opportunities.

So for example, with Mr. Rice, they wouldn't want to put him on, for example, a kid's cereal when that was the image that was on the news and until something was looked at. So for example, Lance Armstrong and Nike, they may have continued on their relationship, but after he admitted to taking steroids, not the best look for Nike to have Livestrong and Lance Armstrong being involved in their massive media campaigns. That had to be reduced and then eventually suspended in order for the best use of the company.

Now oftentimes, the public and some lawyers will bring up the 1st Amendment. Now typically, this is not an issue in athletes taking their political or social stance message out there. We're dealing with employees and employers when it comes to the playing side. And those are collectively bargained in those team sports, tennis may not be necessarily covered, golf may not be covered individual sports, of course they don't have players union. However, it's typically an employer-employee relationship. Those issues are collectively bargained, so oftentimes these have been detailed. However, that issue might be raised with publicly financed stadiums. However, as we dive into that a little bit, it's really important to remember that the government is generally not placing limits on an athlete's speech. It's not like the police are coming in and stopping Colin Kaepernick from taking a knee, then of course, we'd have a 1st Amendment issue there, but we're not seeing that. The government isn't placing limits on the speech, the public backlash is. And also, private enterprise may take some action or inaction around athletes speech. So for example, they may just have an athlete who's a lightning rod, they may have them not do a media availability after a game. They may take that player out of the rotation to speak at panels or do public appearances for the team. Those are private issues, private enterprise issues, those are not dictated by the government.

 And here's the other part about the 1st Amendment is that's not an issue for social media platforms right now, again, social media platforms are big, big, big business. It's a quasi-public forum where people are invited to voice their opinions, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we have the same thing as if we're in the public square. It's a private enterprise, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTOK, and all of the other social media platforms, they're private enterprise. They have terms of use, they have community standards, and if those are policed, then there's no real issue. You can try and sue the social media company, but I have yet to see a speech case that's been successful, especially in the sports world.
                                                       Social media platforms may limit or suspend access, almost at will, provided that if you violate the terms of service, they have the ability to suspend or even terminate your access to it. But remember, the big thing is it doesn't protect the consequences of such speech. And when we get into the discussions of this, and hopefully we haven't raised anybody's blood pressure quite yet, the consequences of the speech are what we're really looking at and what those ramifications are. Because at the end of the day, you're not always going to make everybody happy. When you speak on political or social issues, you're going to upset some people, and that's the consequence of making such speech.

 So what are some of the claims? I know some plaintiff lawyers out there thinking, "Well, what sort of claims may we actually have when an athlete has faced some sort of consequence for speaking their mind on a political or social issue?" First, if it comes from a team side, so for example, if you're Colin Kaepernick and you're terminated from your contract because of the speech, that's not necessarily what happened in the Kaepernick situation, but if you can understand if you're a professional athlete and you're terminated because you say that you want to vote for one candidate rather than the other, you may have a wrongful termination case, as a violation of a collective bargaining agreement. That very well could happen. Leagues and teams are pretty savvy about this. They often hold informational sessions with the general councils to help them understand what is and isn't allowed, what those big situations are and how to avoid some of those situations. Because as you can imagine, if a team's going to do that, it may be a public nightmare because of the backlash on that.

But you may have a collusion case and sports is notable for collusion cases, whether it's a collusion to suppress wages, in baseball that's happened a few times. Or collusion in Colin Kaepernick's situation, that's what he alleged against the National Football League that reached a settlement because it was a little odd that a player with such immense talent and had signed a large deal with the San Francisco 49ers just years before where he had played in a Superbowl, couldn't find a job and still can't find a job in the National Football League, despite the other caliber of quarterbacks that have gone on to start and fail in the National Football League. So he brought a collusion case that went on for several years, brought by attorney Mark Geragos, famously from television and from his significant practice. And that was eventually settled, but yet Colin Kaepernick remains without a job.

So there's a few things that we should always consider as we start to talk about how you advise clients when they're going to take a stance. Now, the first thing that we want to do when I'm working with clients that are taking a stance, and I'm going to get into my experience here throughout this process are you want to help your client understand what the consequences are. This is for the athlete to do before they really even walk into your door. First, understanding the consequences means the short-term consequences, are there monetary considerations that need to be taken into account? Not just the employment income, but perhaps endorsement dollars perhaps it's going to cost more money to hire a publicist to take some additional security precautions, those types of things.

Another short-term consequence that they need to consider is the public reaction. You might want to actually figure out what's the public going to say about this? Who are your opponents and who are your proponents in these type of situations? Who is going to help you? Who is going to support? Who can you rely on? And of course, who are going to be those people that try and take you down after that? The third thing that you want to take a look at is the stress. You want to understand what your commitment will be to this after you do it, what does it look like? What is going to occur? If you can game plan that out, just like you budget money, you want to budget your stress allocation to this topic. You want to do that with your family as well. And help everybody understand what's going to come at them so nothing is a surprise.

And the last one for the short-term anyway, is safety. You want to plan for that in advance, because the second you give the interview, the second you make the social media post, or you take that stance on the podium or on the sideline, you want to make sure that you understand what the safety concerns are so you're not putting yourself or a loved one's at harm without properly planning. You also want to take a look at those long-term consequences, some of those are monetary as well. You may have a short-term financial harm but long-term economic benefit from it. Or it may be vice versa, but you want to understand where you stand financially today and what could happen both good, bad, and ugly if and when you take that social stance.

You also want to start to look at what's going to be the change in public opinion over the long-term. Now, of course, that's reading the tea leaves, and if we could all predict the future the world would be a much easier place for us. However, we don't know where the public opinion is going to go, but we can certainly take a look at some things to understand what the public opinion is doing and how things are swaying. If you're going to take an unpopular stance today but you believe that it's going to be beneficial for you in the long run, it may make sense to sacrifice some short-term consequences for long-term benefit. But also, typically if you're on the more conservative approach and you say that something should not happen and it should never happen, you want to understand what that long-term change in public opinion is, and also identify who is with you and who's going to be against you over the long-term.

The third thing that you want to take a look at long-term is what sort of validation will you receive? Are you looking at a certain event that you want to take place for example a certain bill to pass Congress? Are you looking for a certain change in a work condition? Are you looking for a certain thing to happen for workers in your area? Those type of things are going to validate what you're trying to do. You're looking for that end-goal, that validation. You also want to take a look at that long-term stress. If you're going through a rocky point in your marriage, maybe not the best time to add that level of stress on there. If you have other financial considerations, you're going through a criminal proceeding at the same time, maybe not the best idea to add some more stress onto your plate at this time. It doesn't mean that you can't support a cause, it doesn't mean that you can't speak to other people privately, but going out in front of the news cameras or doing something publicly often can bring some additional stress and understanding what that looks like over the longterm, so that way you can budget that stress quotient will help you determine exactly what the consequences are short and long-term.

And of course, you want to take a look at the impact that your stance is going to have in your personal, professional and familial life. You want to cover this with all of the important people that are in your life to determine how are we going to do this? Why are we going to do this? How are we going to have everybody covered and protected when you're doing these type of things? Another thing you want to consider is the messaging. You want to consider what the consequences of the messaging are. The choice of medium, are you going to do it on the field? What are the consequences of doing it on the field? Are you going to violate a collective bargaining agreement? Are people going to throw batteries at you from the stands? Is your coach going to bench you? You also want to consider maybe it's clothing, you're going to wear a t-shirt in your pregame warmup. Maybe that's the way you want to go about it. Maybe you're going to wear a different colored shoe. You're going to have something that's all about clothing.

Another medium that's often used are press conferences. You already have the press in front of you, so maybe that's where you talk about whatever stance it is that you want to do. This is often used by those stars, the LeBron James of the worlds where they have the media attention. Oftentimes, this is a pre-crafted message. You've game planned who you're going to call on at the press conference, you've game planned how many questions you're going to take, and you know when you're going to walk away from that press conference after you've made your message. But oftentimes, the press conference is another option for a medium to use in the messaging. Maybe it's social media. Recently, we saw Simone Biles in the 2021 Olympics use social media to announce when she wasn't going to be competing and why. And social media helps control the message because it's a one-way conversation. It can certainly be a two-way conversation, but oftentimes with athlete and sports clients, you want it to be that one-way conversation, so that way you can put what you need to out there and then control the narrative as best as possible.
Another way is just traditional media. Maybe you give newspaper interview, maybe you do through a magazine, maybe you do it in a sit down interview of some sort, but traditional media might be another way or other. It could just be that you're going to use word of mouth. You're going to try and influence others on your team, in your sphere of people, in your influential circle, you might just try and persuade a Congressman quietly. You might try and call your mayor, call your financial advisor, call your brother and sister and try and get that type of message going on and out to the right people. But the choice of medium is always important for the actual message.
And that leads us to the actual message. Some of these considerations include crafting the language and practicing delivering that message because oftentimes winging it doesn't have the same effect as when you purposely craft your message and practice it, so that way it comes across the way you want it to. And you can understand what people are going to hear when you deliver that message. Part of that comes from tone and inflection. It's different if you're yelling at somebody than if you have that softer tone. If you say, "I'm really into the color blue." It sounds a little angry, but if you say, "I really like the color blue." It's soothing. Two times different things come across as you've just experienced a reaction to those two just volume levels even.
Also, the emotion that it goes into the message. When we see athletes talk about certain things such as a press conference being something that they really don't like, that they can't get through that, that it's very burdensome on them, and they break down, that's a lot different than storming around throwing chairs calling people names. When people are able to control their emotions, and oftentimes that comes from crafting language and practicing the message, the emotions are going to help deliver that message. Of course, you want to figure out what the key points are in your actual message. You want to be able to highlight certain [inaudible 00:44:16] examples, rationales or interests that you want to touch on during that actual messaging. And then finally of course is clarity. A clear message is going to be an effective message. If people have to hunt for the purpose behind your messaging, it's probably going to fall flat. So making sure that everything is very clear, it's concise and it's easily understood and digested by those that are listening to your message, and as intended audience and unintended audience, that clear message will help move the conference along.
It's also important to understand what the responses are. You have to handle the inevitable of some people are not going to be on your side no matter what it is. You can say that ice cream is the greatest food on the planet and you're going to have 20% of the population that disagrees with you even though we all know ice cream is delicious. Some people just aren't going to go along with no matter what it is. If you decide you're going to give everybody a $10 bill, you're going to have people upset that you're not donating that to those in need or you're going to have people that also claim that you should give them $100. You can't win in all circumstances with all people, and it's important to understand what that response will be, that negative response will be to your messaging.
It's also important to channel those frustrations. Oftentimes in social media, we can get heated in back and forths and name-calling, but instead it's important to practice so that way you don't end up channeling your frustrations into a negative response that will take away from your actual message. The third thing that you want to do with the responses is focusing your message so that way in any response, you can continually bring the conversation back to what the message is. And finally, you have to prepare for the worst. This is the end of days, end of the world scenario where you have to treat your message as falling flat on everybody and understanding what that means. What happens when things don't go according to plan, because just because you think it's a good idea, it doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the world will think so. So you do need to plan for the unlikely scenario that your message is not going to be popular.
Another aspect of dealing with the consequences and minimizing the negative consequence is building your support team. As an athlete, you're going to have a lot of advisors. You're going to have your attorney, your agent, maybe a publicist, you're going to have your family. You're going to have those coaches, teammates, and those that are in the sport around you. You're going to have brand partners. You're going to have those outlets for your message. And you're going to have some supporting groups, but the first step is providing that you have a right advisory group. You want to get them all on board first. You want to talk to your attorney about what that messaging looks like. What are the consequences legally? What are some things that that attorney sees as potentially problematic? And what are some things you can do to really plan for those negative consequences ahead of time?
With your agent, you want to understand what does this mean for my playing career? What's the effect going to be on the marketing side of things? What's the worst and best thing that can happen? For your publicist, you want to discuss how are we going to get the messaging out? How are we going to handle the media's interest? How are we going to handle my social media? How are we going to make sure that we come across as best we can and do I need to clean anything up before I make this message? With your family, you should get them all on board, because when people come to you for a comment, they're also going to come to your spouse, your children, your parents, your nephews, your aunts, your uncles, and anybody else that you're related to because they want to find out what the family thinks as well. And there's also going to be some rifts, you're going to have that cross section of society within your own family unit.
You want to talk to your coaches and teammates and have them understand where you're coming from. You want to have them be at least if they can't be on the same page, you want them to understand who you are and why you're doing it, so that way they can be as supportive as possible. With your brand partners, it's important to have them understand why you're going to take a stance before you take that stance. That way they can prepare their messaging around your announcement. They can determine what they need to do in order to keep the contract alive. And you can address any of their concerns, if possible, within your messaging. You also want to consider the outlets for your messaging. Some, in sports have friendly faces within the media that they can discuss, maybe doing a one-on-one interview. You may want to talk to one of the teams public relations experts, and you may want to talk to others about figuring out what outlet is best for you.
And you also want to take a look for those supporting groups, anybody that wants to take a political or social stance is going to be able to find some supportive groups that can help amplify your message and help give you an additional voice to support what you're trying to go after. No matter if that's political, if it's social, you're going to find some supportive groups that want to amplify your message and use you as a voice. So it's important to look at them as well.
So welcome to the fourth quarter of this CLE, this is where the rubber meets the road and this is what you all came here for is to find out what that approach is for actually advising an athlete taking a stance. And we're going to go through this from my experience on dealing with a number of athletes who have taken stances on social, as well as political topics. Let me give you an example. In 2016, I had a client from the National Football League, who I was just setting up LLCs, doing some basic corporate work, helping them limit some of their liability and helping them structure some small businesses that had really nothing to do with their athlete career on the field in the National Football League. This player was successful on and off the field.
And I got a call one day and he said, "I am going to protest during the National Anthem." Now, I had heard the rumblings in the football world that this was something that was bubbling up to the surface and was going to happen. Then I said, "Okay, if you're going to do that, here's what we need to do." And we built a blueprint with this player, luckily he did not face the same consequence as Colin Kaepernick, he went on to have a long career, he was very successful. And did not lose anything financially off the field because we took this approach. It was some long conversations on a Tuesday before a Sunday game, all the way through really into the Friday before the game. But by Friday, we knew exactly how we were going to handle this. His team was on board and that was the blueprint that we've used and slightly adjusted here and there, depending on who the athlete is, their actual platform and their stance, whether it's been in the National Football League, whether it's been in the National Basketball Association, the Olympics, collegiate sports or otherwise.
So let's get into it. The first thing, let's say an athlete contacts you or a sports team owner, or somebody involved in sports calls you and says, "This is the stance I'm going to take. I'm going to say that the color blue is the greatest color in the world and this is what I believe in and it needs to be said." Regardless of what their stance is actually going to be, there's important questions for you to ask. These are not value-judgment questions, it's important to leave your political affiliations and your beliefs at the door, unless you just can't seem to get over that ethical hurdle to represent somebody. I have certainly not always agreed with my client's political or social stances, but they deserve representation, and this is the field I work in, I'm more than happy to help them unless we got into a very awkward situation where just I cannot represent them due to my constitution. I just can't do it. So I would send them to somebody else. However, I have yet to have that happen.
So instead, I ask these type of questions, I will ask, why is this your stance? What is it about this that makes you want to speak up today about this? I want to understand the basis for the client's position. I want to understand what the history is of their personal experience that has led them into this decision. I need to know the why. And not just a surface level, I need to know what that deep dark part of their heart that says, "I need to do this because here's the problem that I've suffered for so long. Here's the purpose of it." I need to know all the secrets around the why. I want to know and feel and understand why that client has to do this.
The second level of question is what is it that you want to do? I want to know what the client's decision is on how they want to voice their stance. Are they looking to shock and awe? Are they looking to do a media interview? Do they have an idea? We want to have them voice themselves in a manner that's not just comfortable, but in a way that's going to amplify their message as best as possible. I need to know the what as well if not better as the why. Then I want to ask the level of questions around the what it is that you want to accomplish? Understanding that ultimate goal for the client will help identify the different options and messaging that's out there. The client may not have all the answers. They may not say, "We should do it on social media, and this is how we should do it on social media. And then we should call NBC." Some of that's going to be on you. Some of it's going to be on their agent. Some of it's going to be on their publicist, but we need to understand what's the ultimate goal.
What is the client thinking about for the longterm and the short term interests? What is trying to be accomplished here? Maybe it's just amplifying that there is an issue. That you just want people to understand that something's going on. Perhaps it's you want something passed in Congress. Sometimes it's we need change, and other times it's just raising the issue so that somebody else can do something about it. All of those things are completely legitimate, but you need to ask the why the what and the purpose behind everything.
Once you've taken those deep dives into the purpose and understanding what the basis is for your client's decision to speak out on this political or social topic, now you want to start to develop the strategy. Now you may have already started doing this as you have your yellow notepad out when you're talking to your client when they make the phone call, but you want to start with just developing what this might look like. Some of these things are going to change, but you want to ask a lot of questions here. So let's just use that color blue example, that doesn't seem to upset anybody except for the big fans of the color red.
So let's take a look at what happens when that client calls and says, "The color blue is the greatest color in the world and I want everybody to know it. We might want to determine what the medium is, maybe we start there. We want to ask our clients, "All right, do you want to do this on the field? Do you want to take some sort of stance? Colin Kaepernick took a knee, we've seen other players wear t-shirts with their message on it. Before the game, do you want to a certain kind of shoe that highlights the message? Do you want to write something on your helmet? How do you want to do this?" If you want to take an on-field stance, what does that look like? What are you looking for?" Maybe it's a media interview. Maybe the best way to voice your opinion for the color blue is going through a proper channel, for the NFL maybe that they're friends with Adam Schefter, seems like  Schefty is friends with everybody in the NFL. So maybe that's the way to go.
The second way is maybe you decide you want to use a local reporter because it's a local issue, that might make some sense. Or if it's a political issue, maybe you call a non-sports reporter, maybe that's the way you do it. If your big purpose is on getting people on the internet to understand that the color blue is the greatest color in the world and how you're a proponent of it, maybe it's through social media. Maybe the social media is the place to reach your targeted audience. If you're trying to get TikTok to change their color to blue, maybe you might want to go to TikTOK with that. You just want to determine what the medium is to get the maximum return on your athlete's message is.
The second thing is you want to start to determine some of the language. Now, the why is this your stance questions, what's the basis behind it? What's that history? That's going to help you and probably the publicist or a public relations professional that gets involved, maybe even the agent help understand what the language is going to be, the actual language. What the verbal and nonverbal communications are. Some clients are more fiery than others, and you may understand what will and what won't set off your client.
So you want to work with some of the language that they're using, because it's their message. So as you start to craft that messaging, even if you're helping other people, you want to use the language that your client's using, you want to help them understand what those verbal and nonverbal cues are and how you can benefit who your client is by using those things that are within their set of tools. So for example, if they're very expressive with their eyes, maybe we use language and some cues so that that way they can continue to do that and they feel natural about it. We want to talk about the tone. We want to work with our client and say, "Okay look, I understand you're very passionate about this. We got to tone this down a little bit." Or, you know what? Build up the client's confidence and say, "I know you feel the color blue is great. I love the color blue too. Let's tell people, it shouldn't be a whisper, you should shout it from the rooftops." And help them understand that the tone is going to matter.
And then you're also looking for what the listener is going to take away from the message. We've all been in those conversations where the message gets lost in the story or the muck and the mire, hopefully the CLE presentation did not get lost in that, but we want to listen to the messaging that our client's talking about so that way the message doesn't get lost and we can help that message be advanced. We want to determine the entire platform. Is it going to be a specific game? So for example, is your client playing Monday Night Football? Are they in the NBA and they're going to play on Christmas day? Is it going to be at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game? Is it going to be during the Stanley Cup Finals? Is it going to be during the Olympic ceremony? Is it going to be at the award ceremony somewhere? Or is it going to be at the Final Four? Where is it going to be, the specific game? Is it going to be an interview? What's the location, the actual physical location? Is it going to be the social media? Where's it going to be? You want to understand what the entire platform is.
And of course, that platform includes any possible positive or negative ramifications with the chosen platform. If you make that statement on Twitter, are you going to get banned? Are you going to have more followers or are you going to lose everybody? Are people going to call you names? Are people going to do certain things and have certain responses that your client's not going to like? All of those things are really important to understand, not just what the ramifications are, but how your client responds to those types of things.
Next immediate things you're going to do is identify the allies. Who's going to take that similar stand as you? Who are those interest holders that agree with you? You can always find them no matter what political stripe you're in, or what social stance you have. No matter where you are on the political spectrum or on the social activism spectrum, you're going to find allies. You need to understand who those people are and you need to have them rally around your client. So if they're going to defend and support your client, you also need to identify the detractors, who are those influential voices that's going to oppose your client? Are they political pundits on TV? Are they politicians? Are they other teammates? Are they other people in the sport? Who are these people? We want to understand who the groups in the media are that are going to have the negative take, that are going to continue to fuel the fire against what your client is trying to accomplish and help plan for that.
You want to start to review the upcoming actions and the messaging with the key persons and companies involved. When we did this, one of the tasks I had was to reach out to each and every individual sponsor that my NFL client had to determine what they're going to do should my client take this stance. We had some long conversations with some sponsors, but we needed them to understand why my client was going to take this position and their response, of course, thank God was, "We knew who we signed up with when we signed up with him, he can do that because we know that what he voices is what he believes. And we wholeheartedly will support him the entire way through." That was saying something, considering the political climate in the world that was going on at the time.
So you want to alert your client's marketing partners. You want to talk to the on-field and team personnel, that's usually a conversation that your client can have with them to help them understand where he's coming from. The endorsement dollars, where those come from? Maybe it's the agent, maybe it's the lawyer that handled those. Sitting down with family, oftentimes that will involve the agent. It might involve the lawyer, and it definitely will involve your client. Oftentimes speaking with some friends, those close, trusted friends, that really matter, they need to hear about it early as well. Their support team and the other advisors need to have that conference call to say, "Here's what is going on. Here's what we're going to do. We need everybody on board." Whether that's the CPA, the financial advisor, the lawyer, the agent, the real estate advisor, the auto broker, the jeweler, the domestic services representatives, all of the people in your client's life need to be involved with those conversations.
And of course, finally, their trusted connections, it might be family, friends, it might be some mentors that they have, but you need to talk to those people ahead of time so that way they understand the messages well, and that they can relay the purpose behind it. Because sometimes, the message is best heard from a different source rather than the original source. And finally, you want to prepare them for the message. You don't want to have surprises, you want to avoid the surprise. You want to address any issues in advance so that way it doesn't detract from the message. And you want to develop trust and understanding with your client so that way they can trust the process, famous sports term, as they go about voicing their opinion on a controversial topic.
At that point, you also want to prepare responses to the response. You know that there's going to be a bit of public backlash, no matter what you're doing. And there's also going to be some public support, but what is your client's response to those going to be? This isn't just a there I said it type of a thing, there's going to be an ongoing dialogue with this. So it's important to prepare that second level of messaging. You want to understand what the reactions of others is going to be to your client's message and tailor your follow-Up for those responses. You want to address template responses for each possible and likely response to what your client's doing, whether that's on social media when they say, "Shut up and dribble." Whether that's the media saying, "Well, he's not playing very well right now, why is he taking this on?" Perhaps it's, "They want to talk about equal pay, but these women just need to focus on winning." We may also hear the, "If I wanted to pay them for their political opinions, I'd vote for them. These are athletes, I don't want to hear their opinion about politics."
You need to have the responses to each and every one of those objections. And having the right advisors ready to issue and post statements on their client's behalf is very important. We do this with most companies, if you have a corporate client, you typically have some canned responses for when there's a tragic event that happens when an executive passes away, when there's an unknown something that happens, an investigation that comes out, a bad newspaper article, you have some template PR responses. You want to have something similar enough for each and every one of those potential responses to your client's message.
You also want to prepare for the unexpected. You want to plan your client's responses and help prepare him or her to what's coming next, and oftentimes, that's going to be the best training that can be done because getting the messaging together is easy. It's preparing for the unexpected when something comes out of left field. People are going to dig into your client's background, they're going to find anything that might be quasi objectionable so that they can turn into being objectionable about your client. That's going to come out and it's repairing the response for the unexpected. That's also very important.
Finally, you want to practice with your client. You want to rehearse the message. You want to rehearse the action over and over again. You want to get it right. You want to get that message or the action to feel natural and limit the nervous energy and the nervous actions and overreactions. You want your client to go through that messaging process no matter how that message is delivered so it's not the first time they've done it. You want them to feel comfortable as they can for the message that they're about to deliver. And you want to prepare for the possible. What happens if it's timed a little late? What happens if the media didn't pick it up? What happens if? What happens if? That's a big question. And you want to be adaptable, you want your client to understand as they're going through it when their mind is going a thousand miles an hour, that they know exactly what they have to do, so after that message is delivered, they can move on and it's not all encompassing the rest of their day, their week, their month or their life.
You also want to rehearse those responses and the followups. You want to follow the script. You want your client to understand what that script is. You want to develop some canned answers so when they're asked a difficult question that they don't understand what's being asked or how to respond, that they can bring it back. We see politicians do this all the time, when you say, "Why did you vote for that tax hike?" And then they can come back and say something to the effect of, "What I'm here to talk about is the color blue." And this is really important. So they continually ask about, why you voted a certain way or why you did something in the past that was objectionable, you can say, "I'm here for the color blue. The color blue is going to make everybody's life better." And those are the type of canned answers that we're looking to develop. So that way, in the media interviews and that type of thing, it's focused on the message.
 You want to know when to cut the questions, perhaps even have a signal so that if you're in the press conference, you know when to cut it off. You know in the social media world when you can cut those comments short and tell your client, "No more responses on those." And finally, you want to rehearse so there's understanding and there's confidence from your client. This is going to be one of the most nerve wracking things your client will do during their professional career is putting themselves out there for public ridicule based on a social or political stance that they firmly, firmly believe. And it's important, perhaps more than anything else that you can do with a sports client is to help them understand what they need to do and what they can do and why it's important throughout this entire process, so that way they can deliver their message, do good in their community and the best way they see that they can, and to help them give voice to the voiceless that they represent.
Finally, you want to review the consequences, the additional demands that they will have placed on them and any other additional issues that you and the rest of the advisory team can see that can possibly come up. So that way, your client isn't caught off guard, you're not caught off guard, the rest of the advisory team isn't caught off guard and the athlete client or the sports client can move on and continue to do what they do best.
  Now, the aftermath of all of these things, when you're taking a political or social stance with a sports client and advising them through the process, is that the stance we'll stick with that sports client well into the future. Well into the future. Colin Kaepernick will be known more for his political stance than he ever will be for his football career. Most people won't remember that he played in the Superbowl and he played very well. And if it wasn't for a light failure, he may have won that game. The stance may or may not track with public support. History changes in weird ways. And what was very fashionable 10 years ago, five years ago, or even a year ago may just not track with public support in the future. And it's important to understand why that will be and what the consequences of that will be not just for your client, but for their career as well.
Oftentimes, clients who take a public position on things will be polarized. Oftentimes, we see this with just fandom anyway, when you sign with a new team and you say, "I'm happy to be in Philadelphia, it's a great city." People in San Diego all of a sudden get up in arms and say, "Well, wait a minute, you loved it here. Why are you saying that they're better than we are? Holy cow." Sports does not always provide us with the most logical responses, but it's important to understand what those will be, especially when you're taking on more serious issues than what color jersey you're wearing.
Fourth, public opinion will change over time and what's considered a just stance right now may not be viewed favorably later. It's important to understand that, and it's important for your client as you advise them into the future that it's okay to say you were wrong in the past. It's completely understandable. We've all been wrong in the past on certain things, it's okay to acknowledge that, and sometimes it's even better to just say that you were wrong and move on. Maybe you have to apologize, maybe you don't, but it's important that that's kept in the back of your mind as you advise clients in the future.
And finally, clients may have public speaking, public appearance, merchandise, or other opportunities that stem from the stance taken. It's really important to understand that just because you're going to make a public stance on an issue, it doesn't mean that there's not opportunity involved. Now, I would advise against athletes just jumping on a political or social bandwagon in order to capitalize on those opportunities. But the ramifications from putting your message out there may be pretty dire when it comes to your on-field career. However, it's important to find what those opportunities are and all of the ramifications, good and bad for making that message heard. Some of those consequences are going to be positive. Some of those are going to be public speaking opportunities or appearances. Sometimes it might involve some sort of merchandise, and just other opportunities, whether it's in the media, whether it's in small groups, whether it's in potential businesses, it's important to keep those things in mind.
Now, just with the prior CLE that you may have found here on Quimbee, it's really important to understand that when you're dealing with sports related legal issues, that balance and the reasonable person standard doesn't always prevail. Sports and fandom is one of those things where logic goes out the window. Fans believe that their team is the best every year, and that it's going to win the championship, but yet one team is at the end of the year standing there. That's important to keep in mind because when athletes are roped into the sports world, they're going to have similar responses lobbed at them, whether they're logical or not based on their fans, based on their public perception and based on the platform that they have. Some people don't like LeBron James because they don't like the Lakers. Some people don't like LeBron James because he's a good basketball player. Some people don't like LeBron James because he's not Michael Jordan. And some people just don't like LeBron James because he's LeBron James. None of those are necessarily logical, but some people will also be a LeBron James evangelist because he's LeBron James, because he was in a movie, because they think he's a good follow on Twitter or on Instagram or for other equally as ridiculous reasons.
But it's sports, that's what fandom is all about. It's important, if you're going to work in the sports field, meaning that you have a sports client, that you leave your fan hat at the door but understand what that fan response will be. If you can help your clients through these situations, you can help them through just about anything else in the sports world. And it's really important to understand that advising sports clients on social activism and political issues isn't just about athletes, it's about sports teams, it's about suppliers, it's about endorsements, it's about sponsors, it's about a lot of different things. And if your clients touch the sports world, these are some things to keep in mind. We've used the athlete model to make it a little easier for you to understand how to advise your sports client regardless of who they are throughout social activism and political stances. I've hoped you've enjoyed this CLE. My name is Brandon Leopoldus of Leopoldus Law - the Solutions Firm for Those in the Sports & Entertainment. And I wish you the absolute very best and remember to always be safe.

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