Darren Heitner, founder of Heitner Legal, participated in a Sports Law Round Table on March 28, 2023, where he discussed NILs and the rapidly changing business of sports.
The Round Table was presented by the UB Center for the Advancement of Sport, the Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Law Society, and the UB Law Alumni Association. Heitner is an attorney and American Arbitration Association arbitrator who has focused his career on sports, entertainment, intellectual property, litigation, and transactional work. In 2014, the American Bar Association published his sports law-related book, “How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know.” He is a contributor to Forbes and Inc. Magazine, has taught at Indiana University Bloomington, and founded the Sports Agent Blog. He currently writes at Above the Law and teaches sports law at the UF Levin College of Law as well as NIL at the University of Miami School of Law.
Heitner has made a career out of his lifelong interest in sports, law, teaching, and politics. Through his work as a practicing lawyer, arbitrator, professor, writer, and active participant in local Fort Lauderdale governance, Heitner has found a way to merge all these interests. Heitner has successfully built his own firm and made a name for himself in the sports law community. In 2022 Heitner was named to the top 25 most influential figures in NIL list. Heitner is at the forefront of NIL, and he has participated in almost every sector of the NCAA’s new era. He played a quintessential role in crafting deals for the Cavinder twins. Heitner works with collectives, acting as a resource when interpreting NCAA regulations. Heitner has served as a consultant for countless brands. The attorney has been an advocate for high school student-athletes cashing in on their NILs, and he helped the State of Florida craft its NIL legislation.
Round Table Talk
When discussing Heitner’s perspective on the current federal case, Johnson v. NCAA, challenging the applicability of the Fair Labor Standards Act to student-athletes, he responded that schools and the NCAA have taken the wrong approach. In his opinion they should embrace the concept of labelling student-athletes as employees.
According to Heitner, finding that student-athletes are employees will open up greater benefits for them. It would likely change the NIL ecosystem to reduce pay for play and improper inducements. If student-athletes are considered employees, collective bargaining becomes relevant, and student-athletes will be able to negotiate for a better workplace environment and more benefits. Heitner notes that this ruling adds complexity to some NCAA areas, particularly when talking about athletes outside of the major revenue generating sports.
Heitner argues that from a moral standpoint, student-athletes should be classified as employees. But this issue should be considered from the perspective of whether it will benefit all athletes in the long run. For example, student-athletes on scholarship will lose their scholarship, changing their status to paid employees earning minimum wage. But even assuming they exceed minimum wage, there are consequences of becoming named an employee. For example, if you are an at-will employee you can essentially be fired at any time for any reason, and nothing, even a year of a scholarship, is guaranteed in that situation.
While Heitner is publicly known as “The NIL lawyer”, at home he goes by Dad. When discussing what he considers to be the biggest success of his career so far, Heitner talks about his family. Heitner is proud to manage an extraordinarily successful firm while also spending a lot of time with his wife and his one year old son.
Darren Heitner’s extensive knowledge was on display during his time speaking as a panelist on UB’s Sports Law Round Table. Heitner’s passion for sports law and NIL are contagious. His impressive accomplishments as a practicing attorney, arbitrator, professor, and writer are extraordinary. The sports community is lucky to have him in the game.
 Johnson v NCAA, 556 F Supp 3d 491 (ED Pa 2021)
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