A lockout lesson

April 1, 2011

When NFL Network anchors ask on-air legal analyst Gary Roberts a question, a detailed answer backed by decades of experience in sports law ensues. When a Bradley student asked Roberts a question during a sports publicity course this week, his immediate response was shockingly brief.

“Well, what do you think?” was Roberts’ reaction to senior Jeff Bieschke, who had asked why a particular sports figure with a successful, squeaky-clean image isn’t featured on more magazine covers or peddling more products on television and billboards.

Roberts wasn’t hedging. As the author of numerous publications about legal issues in the sports industry and dean of the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, Roberts has much to share about athletes’ publicity rights and endorsement potential. He also knows firsthand the value of a Bradley education, and suspected that if pressed, the students could probably answer their own questions.

“I appreciated Dean Roberts’ method of turning our questions around on us and then building his response off the foundation that our answers had laid,” Bieschke said. “The discussion gave us a different perspective to sports, beyond the box scores or standings. It was the first time the legal aspect of sports had come to light.”

Roberts was invited back to campus by the Pre-Law Center to discuss the current labor dispute facing the National Football League, a topic he has addressed recently in articles for major media organizations such as “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post.”

“Dean Roberts is one of the foremost sports law experts in the country. We were fortunate to have such a distinguished alum visit us and speak about a timely topic that was of interest to students immersed in two of Bradley’s newest programs – pre-law and sports communication,” said Maria Vertuno, director of Bradley’s Pre-Law Center.

His message to the Bradley community regarding the potential for a disrupted 2011 NFL season belies the sensational language circulating American media and the fears of football fans across the country.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal, and I seriously doubt any games will be lost as a result,” said Roberts. “This is just typical, hard-nosed bargaining and right now neither side has any reason to compromise. I think we’ll see a deal in late summer, so don’t panic if training camps are pushed back a couple weeks.”

Whether or not the negotiations proceed as Roberts predicts, he finds the issue “fascinating.” He spent about 30 minutes Wednesday breaking down the legalese and complexities affecting the division of the NFL’s $9.3 billion revenue stream. He also touched on impending National Basketball Association contract negotiations, which he said are much more likely to result in a loss of games, and perhaps the entire 2011-2012 season. And in reference to the ever-controversial college football Bowl Championship Series, he had bad news for the legions of BCS detractors: don’t expect anything to change. 

Pointing to areas of law that apply only to the sports industry and to the political power wielded by big-time collegiate coaches, Roberts said the influence of sports on society cannot be overstated – the very reason Bradley developed a one-of-a-kind sports communication program three years ago.

“Sports are an amazing part of our culture, a very powerful cultural phenomenon,” he said.