Crossover into Sports Law has led to Legal Adventures for James Crowley '74
Competition with his cousins, coupled with stories of the exploits of a local attorney, were the keys to James Crowley’s '74 decision to become an attorney. Born in New Britain, Connecticut, he completed his undergraduate studies at Boston College with what he calls an “unofficial” major in business and history before coming to Cincinnati for law school. Several factors influenced Crowley’s decision to go to law school. First, two of his cousins were headed to graduate school; they were off to medical school. But, Crowley decided he would prefer law school. Second, he had grown up hearing dinnertime discussions about Patrick Flaherty, an attorney in Hartford, Connecticut, who was a friend of the family. “The stories about him were impressive,” says Crowley. “So I set my own sights based upon his reputation and career.”
What brought him thousands of miles from Connecticut to Ohio? Crowley chose UC Law because he had spent his life up to that point in the New England area and wanted to see another part of the country. He had a great uncle that lived in Ohio, so Crowley decided that he, too, wanted to live in the Midwest. UC fit the bill.
Throughout his time in law school, Crowley worked several jobs. “I was everything from a security guard to a law clerk for the Connecticut Attorney General’s office,” he said. While at the attorney general’s office, Crowley had the opportunity to work on antitrust cases, one of which was a lawsuit on behalf of the citizens of Connecticut against 23 of the largest major oil companies for price fixing—a topic which continues to be relevant today.
After law school, Crowley moved to Chillicothe, Ohio to practice defense work for eight insurance companies in surrounding counties. In 1979, Crowley returned to Cincinnati for two primary reasons: “I discovered my heart was in plaintiffs’ work—and perhaps more importantly,” he joked, “my wife didn’t like Chillicothe and wanted to be back in the big city!” As a plaintiffs’ attorney, Crowley worked on personal injury cases, as well as cases involving social security disability law and Ohio workers’ compensation law. In 1982, he chaired the first Social Security Committee formed by the Cincinnati Bar Association (CBA), and he continued to have a thriving social security and workers’ compensation practice throughout the 1980s.
Sports Law Specialty Develops
Crowley’s career took an unexpected turn in 1989. In the late 1980s, Crowley had ventured into a few sports law cases with attorney John Mahin, and in 1989 the CBA, recognizing his new specialization, asked him to form a sports and entertainment law committee. He had always been a sports nut—he played baseball for Boston College as an undergrad. So, when Mahin suggested he begin working in the sports law field, Crowley took the suggestion to heart.
At the same time, Crowley had another mentor who was vital to his sports law career. Brian Goldberg, who at the time was representing baseball players Ken Griffey, Sr. and Ken Griffey, Jr., was also instrumental in getting Crowley into the area of sports law. In fact, after Crowley signed a minor league player from the Reds organization as a client, Goldberg took him to his first spring training.
Throughout his career in sports law, Crowley’s focus has been on baseball and baseball players. However, he has also represented football players and was once certified as an NFL agent by the NFL Players’ Association in the 1980's. As his legal reputation grew, other athletes—such as a 32-year-old who wanted to become a professional boxer and the national barefoot waterskiing champion—approached Crowley about representing them. Today, however, the main focus of Crowley’s sports law practice remains his passion—baseball.
Crowley’s career in sports law has led him to several related projects as well. In the early 1990s, he was involved in a project with a company from Dayton, Ohio, that was trying to patent an oval-handed baseball bat. Crowley recruited many others who were well-known in the baseball industry at the time to work on the project. These included Branch Rickey, III—who at the time was president of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, Murray Cook—the former general manager of the Reds, and Hillerich & Bradsby—the company responsible for producing the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bat. The project lasted for about two years, but ran out of steam when an individual from San Francisco was able to get the patent before the company in Dayton. (Interestingly, that person never ended up marketing the idea commercially.) “I spent a lot of time on that project,” said Crowley, “and although I received little pay for it, it was really interesting. Not many attorneys get the opportunity to work on a project like that.”
Another interesting experience for Crowley during his legal career in sports was the Pete Rose scandal. Although he was not involved in the case, Crowley was a correspondent for WCPO/ Channel 9 during the suspension case proceedings in both the Court of Common Pleas and federal district court. Crowley was interviewed six times during that case, including an interview by CBS News in Miami, Florida, which made national news. “It was fun,” said Crowley. “It was my ‘Andy Warhol’ moment.”
Sports Crosses Over Into His Personal Life
Crowley has cultivated a number of contacts in the baseball industry since branching as a sports attorney in 1989. When Rickey was president of the American Association, Crowley served as a short-term consultant for the Association, giving him the opportunity to work on many interesting baseball and legal issues. He was also involved with the strike season of 1994, representing a player from the Toronto Blue Jays during that period.
Today, Crowley participates in the Kid Glove Committee of the Powell Crosley Knothole Foundation, which raises money for youth baseball. He educates others about the field of sports law by lecturing on the subject to UC students and Salmon P. Chase College of Law students, as well as to tri-state attorneys for CLE programs. He is also a lecturer at the University of Kentucky for the masters program in athletic administration and speaks to high school coaches regarding liability issues, especially with regard to equipment and training programs.
In his personal life, Crowley coached both of his sons, Brendan and Jimmy, in baseball—from tee-ball to college ball—for 15 years. He has also cultivated a love of the arts throughout his life; he is an avid movie-goer and enjoys taking in plays at the Aronoff Center and attending symphony orchestra performances. He was also responsible for starting the third oldest fantasy baseball league in the country in Cincinnati: the Colonial Baseball league, now in its 29th year of continuous operation.