The National Football League, after facing criticism for its track record on hiring women and people of color, is starting the 2022 season Thursday night with three diverse lawyers in key positions.
They are Sandra Douglass Morgan, president of the Las Vegas Raiders; Sashi Brown, president of the Baltimore Ravens; and Catherine Raîche, assistant general manager and vice president of football operations for the Cleveland Browns.
The 32-team league came under scrutiny in February after being hit with a racial bias lawsuit by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. The league retained former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, to represent it in the case.
Lynch defended her decision to advise the NFL, which she said was committed to addressing the “serious concerns” raised by Flores.
The league initiated a review of its so-called Rooney Rule policy—one tweaked and adopted for Big Law with the Mansfield Rule—designed to increase its number of Black head coaches. The Rooney Rule was expanded in March to include women as minority candidates in the league’s job interview pool.
Morgan, a former of counsel at Covington, started her new role as Raiders president in July, becoming the first Black woman to lead an NFL team.
The Ravens in March hired Brown, a former general counsel of the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. He began his career as an associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, the former home of retired Ravens President Dick Cass. Brown was the second Black president of an NFL team at the time he was hired.
The Browns made history in June when they recruited Raîche from the Philadelphia Eagles. Raîche, a lawyer from Quebec who got her start with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, is now the highest-ranking female in a football-focused executive position working for an NFL team.
The NFL’s point person on its diversity efforts is Jonathan Beane, a former football player and law school graduate hired in 2020 as chief diversity and inclusion officer.
Beane reports to Dasha Smith, the league’s chief administrative officer and a former associate at Paul Weiss, Latham & Watkins, and Covington.
Around the League
Other NFL teams have been making legal hires this year.
Atlanta Falcons: AMB Sports & Entertainment LLC, a holding company controlled by Home Depot Inc. co-founder and Falcons owner Arthur Blank, hired King & Spalding associate Claire Alexander as counsel in April.
Chicago Bears: Elaena Harris, a former litigation associate at Faegre Drinker Biddle in Fort Wayne, Ind., joined the team in June as an associate counsel. The Bears are considering leaving Chicago’s Soldier Field—where playing conditions have been criticized—for a potential new stadium site in the Windy City’s suburbs.
Minnesota Vikings: In March, the team hired associate general counsel Ebony Harris, a former Jackson Walker associate who most recently was a counsel and assistant vice president of law, compliance, and government relations for investment firm GK Venture Partners LLC. The Vikings, owned by real estate titan Zygi Wilf, saw two in-house lawyers leave the team within the past year.
San Francisco 49ers: Having dealt with a variety of legal issues in recent years over their new stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., the 49ers promoted former deputy general counsel Jihad Beauchman to general counsel in April. The 49ers also brought on Best Best & Krieger partner Kexuan “Kevin” Wang as senior counsel in January. Wang specializes in municipal law, public works construction, and infrastructure matters.
Seattle Seahawks: Having promoted two in-house lawyers to new roles last year, the Seahawks added a new director of legal affairs, Marissa John, in July from Amazon.com Inc., where she was an associate corporate counsel in Seattle. The Seahawks prevailed earlier this year in a dispute over team-related trademarks.
Tennessee Titans: The team, having reshuffled its legal leadership in 2020, earlier this year hired associate general counsel Valeria Williams. She most recently worked in football operations, policy compliance, and administration in the NFL’s New York headquarters. The Titans recently settled a lawsuit filed by a former staffer fired for taking leave when he was sick from Covid-19.
Washington Commanders: A years-long saga led to a name change for the franchise in February, the same month the team hired Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel associate K. Kaelin Brittin as associate counsel for legal and business affairs. Brittin will work alongside Mali Friedman, a former general counsel for the upstart XFL who took over in January as legal chief for the Commanders. The team has parted ways this year with a number of executives, including attorney and strategy and sponsorship head Christian Matthews, according to the Sports Business Journal.
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