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Michael Weiner and David Prouty met in 1983 on the campus of Harvard Law School and got to know each other while sitting in a class on labor law, the one elective that first-year students were allowed to take.
But it wasn’t just through that labor law class, taught by former U.S. Solicitor General and Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, that the two spent time together. At Harvard, the roughly 500 first-year students are divided into four sections of about 125 students each. Weiner and Prouty ended up in the same section, so they proceeded to take all their required courses together — and a friendship grew.
David Prouty became only the fourth general counsel in the MLBPA’s history earlier this year.
Weiner remembers that he and Prouty, in addition to sharing an interest in labor law, had another thing in common: a love of baseball. “I remember Dave, starting our first year, would arrange to get a bunch of tickets for Opening Day at Fenway Park, and we all went,” Weiner said. “That was back when you could get bleacher seats at Fenway Park for $3.”
While the two friends took different paths after law school — Weiner representing the interests of professional athletes who are paid millions, Prouty working for a union that represents garment workers — it was baseball that ultimately brought them back together decades later.
Earlier this year, Weiner, executive director of the MLB Players Association, announced that Prouty had been named general counsel of the MLBPA, making Prouty just the fourth person in the union’s 47-year history to hold that title (see box).
The promotion came five years after Prouty joined the MLBPA. Before coming to the players union, he’d been general counsel of Unite Here, a union that represents hundreds of thousands of low-wage employees, including hotel, restaurant and garment industry workers across the country.
While Weiner joined the MLBPA a few years after graduating law school, Prouty’s legal career began by representing garment workers in the South. His first job was with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in the Southern region of the U.S. (That union, through a series of mergers, later became Unite Here.)
“Did you ever see the movie, ‘Norma Rae’?” said Harris Raynor, Southern regional director of Unite Here, who worked with Prouty for more than 20 years. “We were that union. When you have a union-organizing campaign, people get fired; they lose their health insurance; people get beaten. And Dave got in the trenches of all of that and fought for the integrity of workers.”
Prouty was involved in union-organizing campaigns and won back wages for workers that were fired. He litigated a number of cases before the National Labor Relations Board, including the landmark Fieldcrest Cannon case brought by Amalgamated that established the union’s right to address employees it was trying to organize after the company gave a speech against unionization.
Though his career, Prouty has won raves from both colleagues and adversaries for his professional approach to representation as well as his kindness and honesty.
“He is one of the most, if not the most, respected union lawyers, if not in the country, certainly in the South,” Raynor said. “He is one of the most ethical and honest individuals I have ever met and certainly the most caring. He is also a brilliant lawyer.”
Weiner speaks of Prouty in similar terms.
“Dave is as genuine a human as you are going to meet,” Weiner said. “He is very compassionate and very kind but he also does what he has to do and understands the way labor relations work. That is a strange combination: someone who knows when to be tough and can be tough but is also that compassionate and kind.”
Weiner had been the MLBPA’s most recent general counsel, having held the title since 2004. He retained the title after becoming the MLBPA’s executive director in December 2009, succeeding Don Fehr, who previously had held both roles as well.
Weiner announced last summer that he is being treated for a brain tumor, but he said Prouty’s promotion was not related to his condition.
“Don [Fehr] held the joint positions of executive director and general counsel for a long time,” Weiner said. “I was willing to hold them for a period of time but I felt that those really should be separate positions. This was a structural change I was going to make regardless of my condition. Since Don, in 2004, separated the two positions, I was willing to carry the two positions through bargaining, but it was always my intention, after collective bargaining, to name a separate general counsel.”
In his new role as general counsel, Prouty said, “I will take on broader responsibilities in general; that is what the job of the general counsel is. So I will have my hand in more things: more in the business side, more in the agent-regulation side.”
Speaking from a corner office at MLBPA headquarters in midtown Manhattan, Prouty added, “Mike will continue to be the principal spokesman for the union. If there are times, and there were times in the past, where he wanted me to speak, I will do so. I testified before Congress in my old role, I spoke with reporters. I don’t know if I will be more public or less public [in the new role].”
It was Fehr who brought Prouty on board at the union in 2008. Now executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, Fehr said recently he hired Prouty to take over some of the workload that Weiner was then carrying as general counsel. Fehr said he was looking for a very senior person with a lot of union experience. Weiner recommended Prouty.
Fehr said that carried significant weight with him.
“When somebody makes a recommendation whose opinion you value, as I obviously did Mike’s, and he can say that not only does this person check out on paper and his references are good and he interviews well, but I’ve known him for a long time and can vouch for him personally, that makes a big difference,” Fehr said.
Steve Fehr, who serves as outside counsel to both the NHLPA and the MLBPA, described Prouty as “low-key, dedicated, persistent and effective.”
Bob Batterman, a management-side labor lawyer and partner at the Proskauer law firm, has known Prouty for years, though perhaps surprisingly not through sports. Instead, Batterman met Prouty years ago because he represented various non-sports-related companies that employed Unite Here union members.
Batterman has negotiated against Prouty on numerous occasions.
“He is a smart, practical, hardworking lawyer,” Batterman said. “He is tough representing his client, the union’s interest, which is good. But he was practical, and if he thought his client was making a mistake, he wasn’t reluctant to tell his client. And, if he thought that I was making a mistake, he was not reluctant to tell me.”
On a personal level, Batterman said he never had a cross word with Prouty even though they were always on opposite sides. “It was a comfortable relationship,” Batterman said. “It was not one where your teeth were set on edge because the person is difficult to deal with.”
Looking back, Prouty said when he was offered that first job at the MLBPA, he was torn. His father was a union organizer, and two of his three siblings work for unions.
“Believe me, it was a really, really hard decision, and I sweated it for a long time,” Prouty said. “I spent my entire career working for low-wage workers.”
But the job offer came around the same time Prouty was turning 50, and he thought if he were ever going to do something different with his life, that was the chance. And although MLB players are highly compensated, Prouty was attracted by the fact that they have only a very short time period of time to earn the money they aim to live on for the rest of their lives.
“The other thing is that the MLBPA is an incredible union,” Prouty said. “I had always admired [late MLBPA leader] Marvin Miller and Don Fehr and [former MLBPA COO and attorney] Gene Orza, and the opportunity to learn from those people was something I could not pass up.”
Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry, co-heads of the hockey group, will represent the players, along with CAA Sports agent Claes Elefalk.
The players range in age from 21 to 27 and provide an infusion of youth to the firm’s roster of more than 65 NHL clients.
Hagelin was formerly represented by r4pa LLC, which was recently sold to Legacy Global Sports (SportsBusiness Journal, March 25-31 issue). Desharnais was formerly represented by Madison Avenue Sports & Entertainment. Yip was formerly represented by Global Hockey Consultants Inc., while Shaw was unrepresented.
It was not clear why the players switched representation.
In addition to signing Desharnais, CAA Sports negotiated for him a four-year, $14 million contract extension with the Canadiens. Desharnais has been with Montreal for his full NHL career after going undrafted in 2008.
The other three players also were not highly touted in their draft years, but each now has established himself in the NHL. Yip was an eighth-round pick in the 2004 draft, while Shaw was a fifth-round pick in 2011. Hagelin was taken in the sixth round of the 2007 draft by the Rangers and went on to win the NHL All-Star fastest skater skills competition in 2012.
Meanwhile, CAA Sports hockey agents are serving as advisers to several top prospects in this June’s NHL draft. Those prospects include defenseman Seth Jones, center Nathan MacKinnon, center Max Domi, wing Connor Hurley and center Justin Bailey. Jones is ranked No. 1 and MacKinnon No. 2 in the NHL Scouting Report rankings for North American skaters. Jones is the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, now an assistant coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Domi is the son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi.
In hockey, agents typically serve as unpaid advisers without written contracts to young players. This allows the players to retain their NCAA eligibility should they choose to play hockey in college. As a practical matter, hockey agents who serve as a prospect’s adviser in the draft typically are hired by that player after he turns professional.
> PINNACLE SIGNS WORLD PEACE, OTHERS: New York-based basketball player representation firm Pinnacle Management Corp. has signed Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace for representation. He will be co-represented by Pinnacle President Marc Cornstein and Doug Davis, who is World Peace’s personal attorney as well as an NBPA-certified agent.
World Peace, who went by Ron Artest before changing his name in 2011, was represented by David Bauman of Lagardère Unlimited. It was unclear what caused him to switch representation.
“We are excited to be representing Metta,” Cornstein said. “He is a great name, and he is having a great season.”
World Peace was averaging more than 12 points and five rebounds per game this year in a season that otherwise has been largely disappointing for the Lakers. He suffered a knee injury last Monday, though, and his timetable for return was not immediately known.
After this season, World Peace has a one-year player’s option that will pay him $7.7 million. Cornstein said they would explore opportunities before deciding whether to remain with the Lakers.
Pinnacle has also signed guard Sasha Vujacic, who has played for both the Lakers and Nets but who is now playing for Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball League. Additionally, Pinnacle signed forward Dario Saric of KK Cibona, a team in the Croatian League, for representation in this year’s NBA draft. Cornstein will represent both players.
Cornstein founded Pinnacle in 1998 and has specialized in representing players who were born in Europe for contract work with both overseas teams and NBA clubs. Pinnacle represents five NBA players and about 35 players who are on teams in Europe and Asia.
Liz Mullen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.