Talking Football and the Law with Seahawks General Counsel Ed Goines

Seahawks vs. 49ers

An Interview with Seahawks SVP, General Counsel and Government Affairs Ed Goines

Even if you’re not a football fan, anyone within a roughly 3-million-mile radius of Seattle can recognize the telltale signs of football season as the colors begin their autumnal shift to blue and green.

For many, the Seahawks are a way of life; a Friday dress code; and, for at least one lawyer, a 9–5. As SVP, General Counsel and Government Affairs for the Seahawks and First & Goal Inc., Ed Goines is now in his fifth season with the iconic franchise. Prior to the Seahawks, Goines was assistant chief counsel for Disney Interactive/The Walt Disney Company; general counsel and vice president of business affairs for the San Francisco 49ers from 2001-2007, including one year as a legal consultant to the 49ers; and he worked in entertainment and sports fields, serving as in-house legal counsel for Major League Soccer, Ticketmaster, and Mattel.

Goines was kind enough to answer a few questions about the life of an NFL lawyer. So, without further ado, let’s kick it off.

What made you want to become a lawyer?
Since I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a professional, a member of some profession. I nearly faint at the sight of blood, so I knew being a doctor was not in the cards. I considered an MBA but numbers/finance is not my strong suit, so I fell into law.

You’ve worked with both the Seahawks and the 49ers. Are there major differences moving from one team to another? And on a scale of “way better” to “extremely better,” how much better is it to be with the Seahawks?
There are similarities in a few ways. Both are NFL football front offices, operating on the West Coast and competing in the NFC West division. But that’s about where the similarities end! The Hawks are a much more “hands on” operation. We do a really good job of understanding our fans and creating real, enduring relationships, along with outstanding experiences for our fans. Even when engaging in legal matters with fans or corporate partners, I try to make the engagement respectful and mutually-beneficial. We don’t take a “cookie-cutter” approach with our fans and corporate partners.

You’ve also worked with non-sports entities like Disney and Mattel. What were the main differences you noticed between those industries and sports?
Multinational corporations are like glaciers. They are formed over the years and appear as one big block or monolith, cold, and impersonal. Their imperfections or inefficiencies are largely masked until it’s too late, and they often have to melt down significantly before anyone takes their problems seriously. In sports, we burn bright with loads of different personalities. Our imperfections or problems are exposed each weekend and debated openly by the media and others daily. In my world in sports, a legal opinion is needed often very quickly and will have immediate impact on the organization.

When you became a lawyer, did you always imagine yourself working with the NFL?
My 1L law school classmates tell me I said I wanted to be an NFL general counsel in law school. I don’t recall that. I do remember my first year at a firm in LA saying to myself that one day I wanted to be working in professional football.

What is the most common misconception people might have about being general counsel for an NFL team?
That all day I sit around and negotiate multimillion dollar player contracts. It could not be farther from the truth. There is someone who does that and it’s the GM and his team of advisors. The GC represents the team owner in the organization’s business and legal affairs, ranging from corporate partner agreements, broadcast rights, stadium operations, HR, compliance, workers’ compensation, player discipline, trademark/copyright, etc.

What is your most memorable moment you’ve had that would make a Seahawks fan seethe with jealousy?
There are too many, making it difficult to choose one. Forced to pick one, I’ll pick the Thanksgiving night game 2014 in San Francisco. When the PA announced the Seahawks were entering the field, I happened to be in the tunnel and ran out of the tunnel with our team to a serenade of boos raining down on us from 49ers’ fans. We nearly held the Niners scoreless that night and ate turkey dinner on the field.

What is least jealousy-inducing part of being general counsel for an NFL team?
The dozens of hours spent pouring over workers’ comp claims.

Football has become far more politicized recently. Has this affected your job at all?
Yes. I wear two hats. In addition to general counsel, I also lead the organization’s government affairs. Over the past 2-3 years, I have supported our players in their quest to become more educated and aware of societal issues facing our nation. In that connection, I’ve met with and enabled players to meet with local, state, and national elected officials; law enforcement; and concerned community leaders. It is unfortunate those efforts have been co-opted into political agendas by others.

You get to play a game of touch football with any three people, living or dead, who would they be?
Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Bob Marley.