Ever since the inaugural Black Student-Athlete (BSA) Summit was held on the UT Austin campus in 2015, Luke Fedlam, an attorney at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, has been sharing his expertise with hundreds of attendees from colleges and schools across the country. We caught up with him to learn more about his experiences at the annual BSA summit, what keeps bringing him back every year, and why it’s so important for student-athletes to do their due diligence before signing the dotted line.
Could you share a bit about your talk on “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”?
This conversation digs deeper into the role athletes have to play to protect themselves. As a sports lawyer, I help them make sure they don’t get taken advantage of in terms of name, image and likeness. When student-athletes are considering endorsement deals, I want to provide perspective on important things they have to think through. There are certain requirements for various contracts, so they really have to do their due diligence before making a decision—even if that means hitting the pause button until they have all the information they need to protect themselves. It’s so important to be mindful of what you need to do before taking on commercial opportunities.
Marketing agents are another factor. Athletes want to have flexibility and hire who they want, but little provisions can trip up their plans. Younger athletes, for example, often want to change marketing agents early in their professional career, which is why the terms of the agreements are so important. When they want to give their agents a 30-day notice to terminate the agreement, they may find themselves stuck for another year because that’s what they signed up for in the contract. Those are the things athletes transitioning to the pros don’t think about until they get stuck.
It is so important athletes do their due diligence—and I will shout from the highest mountaintop that they should not sign anything that they do not fully understand.
What drew your interest in sports law? Were you a student-athlete back in the day?
I’ve loved sports since I was a kid—and even ran at Wake Forest during my freshman year (I was good, but not that good!). I got started in finance and worked with professional athletes as a financial advisor. I focused on how to make sure they had all the information they needed to be financially protected. A lot of times, people have told me that my career so perfectly aligns with my passion for sports, but my passion truly lies with the athletes—and making sure they get the protection they need so they can have a positive impact on their families and communities. That’s the reason why this is so important when it comes to Black students and professional athletes. They have this opportunity to change their lives—and their family members’ lives—through the opportunities sports can provide. I want to give them the protection they need so they can be a part of that change. That said, I do love my Eagles and Knicks, so sports are also a big passion of mine!
What brings you back to the BSA every year?
I fell in love with the Black Student-Athlete Summit since the first year it was launched. The joy of this conference is in the people and the content of the conversations. I look forward to seeing some of the same people, meeting new people and hearing about new topics every year. This is going to sound colloquial, but it feels like a family. When you see someone who starts off as a Ph.D. student and comes back as a new professor, you get excited. That sense of family is what makes this more than another athletic conference.
Aside from the new virtual venue, how did this summit differ from previous years?
After everything that happened over the summer of 2020, I came into this summit with a whole new level of anticipation. This year had a different feel because of the recognition of the reality around the importance of social justice topics. The substance is still the same, but what has changed is how Black student-athletes have responded, how athletics departments have responded, and how there is a higher sense of urgency to make sure we’re supporting our student-athletes.
As for the virtual setting, everyone did a phenomenal job putting together a platform that encourages and helps to facilitate conversations that need to happen with community building. When you look at the networking groups and the conversations happening within the platform, it’s pretty incredible. That said, I will assert that we all would like to be back together in person—and I pray this will happen soon!