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First Woman NBPA Executive Director Discusses New Role

1200_micheleroberts.rAfter 18 months without an Executive Director, the NBPA recently hired Michele Roberts to lead the union.  A University of California (Berkeley) law graduate, Roberts now becomes the first woman to lead a major U.S. sports union.  The Bronx, New York native chatted with SportsBusiness Journal’s labor and agent reporter, Liz Mullen, about her new position and the obstacles facing the union in the future.  Below are a few comments from the interview with Mullen.

Roberts remarked pretty candidly about being a woman in a male-dominated role, saying “I stopped a long time ago allowing myself to be paralyzed in my decisions about how I was going to proceed in my life, worried about how people might view me because of the fact I am a woman.  I have never thought about not representing a client or not asking a question of a witness or any number of things.  I stopped worrying about ‘Can I do that? I’m a girl.’  I do what I can to represent the people who pay me a lot of money — frankly — to solve their problems.

“And I do that by being the best lawyer I can be, and I don’t spend one second worrying about how some idiot might think I might not be competent because I’m a woman. … When I looked at this position and I found myself interested and attracted to it, I said, ‘This is what I want to do.  I think I can do this.  In fact, I know I can do this.’ ”

Regarding her plan of action for working together with the NBA players…

“Sit down and help them formulate (a plan) and give them some idea of what the alternatives are to approaching these issues and the consequences of whatever positions they decide to take.  So those are discussions I know we are going to have very soon and I look forward to that.”

While Roberts did not specifically comment on any particular union issue, she still addressed the importance of being on the same page with the players…

“I can tell you that I am as familiar as one can be from the outside without being engaged in discussions with the players on their views on these issues — I shouldn’t have been, unless I was hired by them,” she told SBJ.  “It makes sense that I wouldn’t know what the players’ thinking is, in relation to these issues.  I am familiar with what the issues are. … I have seen what Mr. (Adam) Silver has had to say about the direction he wants to take the league and the issues he wants to engage in discussions with the players.  I tried to get ahead of those issues, so I would know what they were, if I got the offer.”

Finally, the 57-year-old Roberts explained that she intends to spend much of her early days in the office traveling and gaining face time with people she’ll be working with throughout her tenure as Executive Director…

“I do intend to eyeball every single one of the men and women who pay my salary,” Roberts said.  “…I want to meet them; I want them to meet me. … I am going to let them know they have absolute carte blanche to contact me.  I plan to do a lot of handshaking and talking and learning.”