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NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks Tap NBA Lawyer to Fill First Legal Role

May 6, 2021, 9:30 AM

The National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks have looked to the National Basketball Association for the team’s first general counsel, hiring Marcus LeBeouf from the Charlotte Hornets.

LeBeouf, a former counsel at Seyfarth Shaw and a predecessor to Lathrop GPM, told Bloomberg Law via email that he joined the Blackhawks two weeks ago. He also confirmed he’s among the first three Black legal chiefs employed by an NHL team, all of whom have been recruited within the past year.

LeBeouf’s new role with the Blackhawks was hailed on LinkedIn by two schools he graduated from—Morehouse College and the Duke University School of Law—as being an important milestone for the advancement of Black lawyers in professional sports. Both schools noted that LeBeouf has joined a small group of Black general counsel in the NHL, which has sought to become more diverse in recent years.

“It is an honor and a blessing to join the Blackhawks’ leadership team,” said LeBeouf, crediting newly hired Blackhawks president of business operations, Jaime Faulkner, and newly promoted club CEO Danny Wirtz with having faith in him to “protect their interests” for several Blackhawks-related entities.

One of the few NHL teams with a Black general counsel is the Seattle Kraken, an expansion franchise planning to take the ice in 2022, which hired Hewan Teshome last summer. The other is Nigel Wheeler, a former real estate associate at Bracewell in Dallas, who joined the Carolina Hurricanes in April 2020 as general counsel, replacing William Traurig, now legal chief for the North Carolina Education Lottery.

LeBeouf is the top lawyer for the Blackhawks, the team’s nonprofit foundation, and its practice facility at Chicago’s Fifth Third Arena, as well as the Rockford IceHogs, a minor league affiliate in nearby Rockford, Ill. LeBeouf will also advise on matters involving the United Center, a 20,000-seat arena that the Blackhawks share with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.

The Blackhawks are owned by W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz, CEO of the Wirtz Corp., a privately held conglomerate. The company and the Blackhawks have had a longtime client relationship with Chicago-based law firm Gozdecki, Del Giudice, Americus, Farkas & Brocato, whose founding partner Eugene Gozdecki was the Wirtz Corp.’s general counsel until his death in 2012.

The Blackhawks hired LeBeouf after he spent nearly four years as an assistant general counsel for the Hornets, an NBA team owned by basketball great Michael Jordan that in February hired a new legal chief of its own in Tamara Daniels, most recently the top lawyer for the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

An Avalanche Addition

A month before Daniels was hired, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche added a new legal chief in Keirstin Beck, a former commercial real estate partner at Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher in Denver.

Beck, whose hire by the Avalanche has not previously been reported, is now general counsel for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment LLC, a holding company owned by billionaire shopping center mogul E. Stanley Kroenke.

Kroenke is also a titan in the professional sports world, where in addition to the Avalanche he also owns the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, National Lacrosse League’s Colorado Mammoth, Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids, and English Premier League’s Arsenal F.C.

Beck said her role as KSE’s legal chief makes her the top lawyer for the Avalanche, Mammoth, Nuggets, and Rapids, as well as their playing facilities and other event venues like Denver’s Paramount Theatre, the city’s 18,000-seat Ball Arena, and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, whose capacity varies for soccer games and concerts.

KSE also controls Kroenke-owned media companies Outdoor Sportsman Group Inc. and Altitude Sports & Entertainment LLC, sued in March by a former sports reporter.

Beck said she took over the top legal role at KSE from Stephen Stieneker, a Denver lawyer who stepped down from the position in August 2019.

Jaimie Wolf, who became vice president of legal at KSE that same month, left the company earlier this year to take the same position at PointsBet Holdings Ltd.’s PointsBet USA, one of many gaming companies hiring lawyers as they seek to make inroads in the U.S. sports betting sector.

KSE is not responsible for the team operations of the Rams and Arsenal, both of which operate under a different corporate structure, Beck said.

Kroenke’s relocation of the Rams to Los Angeles in 2016 from St. Louis made him the target of litigation and American football fan vitriol.

Arsenal’s bid to join an ill-fated soccer Super League in Europe last month also made Kroenke a focus of aggrieved sports purists. Kroenke has refused calls from Arsenal fans that he sell the club, which he gained full control of in 2018.

Controversy & Litigation

Kroenke isn’t alone when it comes to controversial efforts involving sports teams.

The Blackhawks, which have faced criticism over the use of a Native American name and logo, said last year they would keep their identity but agreed to ban the display of certain sacred tribal symbols—such as headdresses—at the United Center.

The NHL has also come under scrutiny for allegations of bullying and racism spoken about by retired Blackhawks player Daniel Carcillo, now a co-founder and CEO of Wesana Health Inc., a startup life sciences company using psychedelic drugs to treat traumatic brain injuries. Carcillo is a lead plaintiff in a concussion lawsuit filed against the NHL that a federal judge in Chicago dismissed in March.

While the dispute involving Carcillo and other players seeking compensation for head trauma is headed back to arbitration, the NHL has settled other brain injury-related cases and has faced litigation from other former players, including Steve Montador, a former Blackhawks defenseman who died at 35 in 2015 from an accidental overdose. A post-mortem examination revealed he had brain damage.

Montador’s father claimed the NHL’s “culture of violence” contributed to his son’s death, but the NHL, represented by Proskauer Rose and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, won a partial summary judgment motion late last year.

The Montador case had been part of multidistrict litigation in Minnesota that was dissolved with most former NHL players settling with the league.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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