Jay Reisinger, Sports Attorney:
First, can you let readers know how you and your firm got involved in sports law – was this an intended focus for you all along?
Since I was a student at Allegheny College, the field of sports law had interested me. After my first year in law school, I was fortunate enough to land an internship with Sam Reich (brother of famed sports agent Tom Reich). Sam handled a number of sports-related matters for Tom and his clients.
After law school, I joined Sam’s firm full-time, and handled a number of sports-related cases, from high school eligibility matters to MLB salary arbitration. I eventually moved to my own firm in 2008, where my focus is almost entirely sports-related.
You’ve handled a number of large cases, including working with Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte and their legal issues concerning performance-enhancing drugs and hormones. Which of your case(s) have you been most proud of, and why?
I am proud of all of them, because I feel we served each of them well with respect to their individual matters. However, I am most proud of the work that we did for Andy Pettitte. We were able to extract him from the circus-like atmosphere that surrounded the Roger Clemens matter and put him on his own path, which certainly inured to his benefit.
How do you deal with the immense media presence around these cases – how do you prevent them from being distractions?
It is our general policy and practice to refrain from making public comment in on-going legal matters. We have found that, in general, it does not serve a client’s legal interests to speak with the media.
There is a balance between an athlete’s public persona and his legal interests, and we attempt to strike that balance, however, an athlete’s legal interests always take precedence, and most often, public comment does not serve those legal interests.
How has being in Pittsburgh helped your practice?
Initially, I was mentored by two of the finest sports lawyers in the business, Sam and Tom Reich, who are both Pittsburgh natives.
Pittsburgh also has a significant number of nationally known sports attorneys, and my interaction with them has played a large role in growing my practice. On a personal note, my entire family lives in Pittsburgh and I enjoy a great deal of family support in my professional endeavors.
A good deal of your work is as an attorney in salary arbitration – including representing Pirates players. How do you prepare for these hearings- what data do you use and how heated can these hearings get?
Salary arbitration hearings for MLB players take place in February each year. I usually begin preparing my cases in September, and then continually revise my analysis in the following months. On behalf of players, we utilize a proprietary statistical program that allows us to compare even the most obscure statistics in an effort to determine a player’s proper place in the salary structure.
The negotiations leading up to a hearing can often get quite heated as each side gets entrenched in their respective positions. The hearings themselves can also get quite heated, but are always professional.
How do you avoid these negotiations getting so personal that they permanently taint the player-organization relationship – and how have you found the Pirates to be in these negotiations compared to other teams – I know you had some good battles with Pirates Counsel Larry Silverman in the past.
I have never been involved in negotiations or a hearing where it became so personal that it permanently tainted the player/organization relationship. As a player representative, you have to check your ego at the door, and act in the best interest of the player, and part of that process is to maintain the player/organization relationship.
A player’s representative has to be that buffer between the player and the organization, and take the heat for the player, and conversely, apply pressure on the organization from the player’s perspective in such a way that it comes from the representative, not the player.
I have always found the Pirates to be extremely professional in these situations. I have always had great battles with Larry Silverman (also a Pittsburgh native), they were always spirited, but professional. In almost every instance, both Larry and I left the bargaining table a little disappointed with the result, which really is the hallmark of a good deal for both sides.
Any thoughts on the issue of concussions with players in the NFL and NHL? There are a couple of lawsuits now against the NFL and the NHL could be prone to the same. What is your take on the whole concussion issue?
The concussion issue has been ignored in professional sports for far too long. Leagues and the players unions need to do a better job in evaluating the problem and creating solutions, to the extent they can be created. At the end of the day, there are always going to be concussions in professional sports (especially in the NHL and NFL), it is a risk that players assume. However, the treatment of concussions falls to the teams and their medical staffs, and that treatment needs to evolve as more research is conducted.
I also have a personal interest in the concussion issue. I have a son who plays Mite hockey and a daughter who plays travel soccer. Concussions are increasing at the youth sports level (most likely a result of increased awareness and diagnosis), and as a father, I am paying close attention to concussion issues in youth sports. I am hopeful that with increased awareness and research, concussions in youth sports can be reduced and the treatment of concussions will continue to progress.
What Pittsburgh athletes have you represented in non-arbitration type cases? Any interesting (and repeatable) stories from these?
I have represented a number of Pittsburgh-based athletes in both civil and criminal matters. Unfortunately, the attorney/client privilege prevents me from commenting, but needless to say, it’s always been an adventure!
What would surprise readers most about your work?
I think my clients would surprise readers. Many people have a misconception that professional athletes are, in the main, arrogant and selfish. I have found it quite the contrary.
In most of my dealings with professional athletes, I have found them to be considerate and appreciative. Many of them are different in person than they are on the field.
You write consistently for the Sports Agent Blog as well (http://www.sportsagentblog.com/tag/jay-reisinger/) – what issues do you find yourself discussing most with your peers now and what are the biggest concerns behind those issues?
I often blog about labor issues in sports. I believe that the leagues, in the main, have taken the upper hand in labor negotiations (especially in the NFL and NBA), and it is detrimental to players and players’ rights.
For example, the personal conduct policy in the NFL is a sham. Without the ability to appeal league discipline to a neutral third-party arbitrator, the players are at the mercy of the Commissioner. It’s these types of issues that concern (and interest) me. I also have a personal blog in which I discuss sports issues (http://www.jayreisinger.blogspot.com/).