Mickey L. Washington is a Houston-area labor and employment lawyer and a former professional football player. He will be speaking at the Texas Aggie Bar Association Annual Conference on March 3. His presentation is entitled Are You Ready For Some Football - A Discussion of the Legal Issues Related to NFL Football.
Mickey L. Washington
The Texas Aggie Bar Association recently spoke with Mr. Washington:
Q. What leads a gifted athlete to pursue a legal career?
A. Well, for me, there were four things that I wanted to do: I wanted to own my own business, I wanted to play professional football, I wanted to be an attorney, and I wanted to major in accounting. I got three out of the four. I actually did not major in accounting because I found I didn’t like it and it didn't work well with the long football practices. From a young age, I wanted to be an attorney because I thought that, if I was going to be an impact or an influence in my community, I needed to understand how our laws are written and possibly help write something to make a difference our communities.
Q. What aspects of being a player have changed over the years?
A. When I played, we didn't have personal trainers and, coming out of college, we didn’t have to fly somewhere different from our home towns to go workout for the pro day. You just really tried to perform within those four years. We weren't caught up in the commercial aspect of it. It was more about the camaraderie and no one was really focused on the money. We wanted to be the Franco Harris and the Walter Payton-type people, but we weren't looking at it from a standpoint of getting all the material things. It was a brotherhood that was very, very fun.
In college, I wouldn't even allow myself to focus on the NFL until my senior year. I always thought that if you're too focused on getting to the pros, then you're looking so far ahead that you don’t take care of today. I think the majority of our kids now are not looking at education. They're looking at trying to make the LeBron James-type money and the odds are just very, very slim.
For example, I wasn't the guy in my high school that was supposed to go pro. There was a buddy of mine who was a superstar. He was very talented, but he never appreciated the talent that he had; whereas, I had to work and continue working. That's why I say that the kids who take care of the day-to-day business will be the ones who will typically succeed.
Q. Do you think the league has a challenge preparing younger players for life after football?
A. It is a huge challenge, but it's a two-way street. The guy has to be extremely confident and have faith in himself to get to that level. The confidence and arrogance that makes him great, also will, at times, make him think he's invincible. He'll think that he can't be vulnerable to the things that other players before him had. There is a challenge by the league to get guys to the mindset that this game ends for everybody. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant Emmitt Smith, whoever their heroes are, they had to end at some point in time.
Q. Tell me about your law practice.
A. We primarily practice labor and employment law. We litigate primarily for plaintiffs but also a good portion for defendants. We handle labor and employment, business law, personal injury, and catastrophic personal injury. I also do transactional work and I represent companies like CITGO, some accounting firms, and franchisees and franchisors. We will also handle drafting basic policies and procedures for companies. On the labor and employment side, we typically get the majority of our calls from individuals so we have probably more plaintiffs' employee cases than we do defense cases.
Q. What is your role with the NFL Players Association ("NFLPA")?
A. Oh man, that keeps me so busy. I am one of the executive directors for the NFLPA and I'm also the Houston-chapter president for the NFLPA. During the lockout, we were voting on proposed terms and trying to communicate to all the current and former players around the nation as to what was going on.
Many people don’t realize that there are two segments of the bargaining process. The lockout involved the active and former players. However, the agreement for the former players was not completed until later. That portion of the agreement was not finalized until November or December. We are now educating everybody, including former players, as to what they're entitled to under this this new agreement.
The NFLPA keeps me in tune with what's going on with football. I was a union rep for about four years as a player. I also clerked at the NFLPA's office when I was in law school. So it's almost a no-brainer that I would work with the NFLPA in some capacity. As a baby player, I was trying to learn from the Reggie Whites of the day. I didn't have to necessarily go study the information; I lived it when guys were arguing with Gene Upshaw and the NFL.
Q. What do you like most about your job? What is the biggest challenge you face?
A. The thing I love most is I can step into any arena and have some degree of knowledge or know where to go to get the information. I can get involved and impact situations that I come across.
The downside is that I can't help everyone. I get tons of calls from employees, small-businesses, and football players who really need help. I'd love to be able to help more people, but sometimes it's just not practical to be able to help everyone. Ultimately, I end up at least trying to educate employees, as well as players, about their situations where they can at least have some foundation to build upon.
Q. What is the best bit of advice you've ever received?
A. Not to personalize so much. When I hear from clients that someone has been mistreated, not to take it personally so that I can still go home and sleep. My six-year-old daughter doesn't understand Daddy's stressed out about this chicken franchise losing money due to a breach of contract. So, I've learned to just be a little more lighthearted, and to enjoy the trip of life that we're on. Due to my profession, I get a lot of exposure to different things, so it's a great educational path.
Q. What was the best part about playing for A&M?
A. Oh that's an easy one. When I played, we were, as a team, a family. We had fun and Jackie Sherrill made it first class. Everything that I was associated with when I played at A&M, through Jackie Sherrill, was first class. Every function I attended, whether it was a bowl game, a banquet, or something else was first class. I know, in those days, other schools didn't have that.
Q. Any predictions for next season?
A. I was a little hesitant at first, but I think we'll be okay. What most people don't realize about the SEC is, after you get past LSU and Alabama, there's a drop off. Everyone else is basically a mid-level team. I think, with the recruiting class that we have, we're on the right path. I think we're going to surprise some people. Our only question mark is the quarterback area - who's going to lead us? However, when you've got great guys like Christian Michael back there, I think we can ride on his shoulders and be pretty successful.