In 1989, the Brewers were playing in the old County Stadium, the Green Bay Packers were led by quarterback Don Majkowski and the Big Ten conference was, of course, made up of just 10 teams.
That year also saw Marty Greenberg, a real estate professor at Marquette University Law School, launch the National Sports Law Institute at the university. Despite raising $500,000 from the Bucks, Brewers, Admirals and Packers for the initiative and receiving the blessing from the school’s deans, some of Greenberg’s fellow faculty members were not completely sold on the idea.
Leadership “believed in my vision…they felt that this would distinguish Marquette Law School. And it did,” Greenberg said, noting that when the institute began only two professors were teaching two sports law classes. “This has brought people from all over the United States to Milwaukee, to study sports law, and it’s made Marquette a national law school.”
Over the last three decades, the institute has grown into a leading educational and research organization for legal and policy issues that affect amateur and professional sports, thanks to Greenberg. In affiliation with the institute, the law school now offers 16 classes on a wide array of topics taught by numerous professors, including former MLB commissioner Bud Selig.
The institute also acts as a forum for discussing legal, ethical and business issues involving amateur and professional sports both here in the United States and internationally. It also sponsors conferences and symposia and publishes the Marquette Sports Law Review.
Greenberg, who has been with the law school since 1972, was recently honored by the institute for his contributions. He said in reflecting on his long career both in the classroom and as a lawyer that it has been his life’s work to develop the next generation of sports attorney.
“My greatest accomplishment in my 50-year career is lighting up bright minds,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg, like any great athlete, had a lofty goal to reach, before hanging up his cleats.
“I wanted to get to 50. That was my goal, to get to 50. You have to know when you’re at your high spot, and when you’re falling,” he said. “I didn’t want to go any further than 50 years because there aren’t too many law professors anywhere in the country that have taught for 50 years of law school.”
Greenberg said he will continue to write articles, give speeches and act as an expert witness.
“And if they want me to come there and lecture on things, I will do that. But I hit my goal, and I’m basically in retirement,” he said.
Greenberg, who was director of the institute until 1997, remains on its board. During his career, he has represented a long list of professional athletes, general managers, trainers, sports broadcasters and leagues in negotiations and agreements. He has also worked as real estate lawyer, with extensive experience in contract negotiations, development and construction.
Greenberg said he believes part of his success and, in a broad way, the success of the institute, was the fact that while he taught he also remained a practicing attorney, bringing his rich experience into the classroom.
“I’ve had wonderful experiences in my life from the standpoint of what I’ve been able to obtain as a solo practitioner, and never gave up that element of it. Because I believe that the academic and practice was so connected, that this was a way to create credibility with the students,” he said.
The institute was born out of Greenberg’s close friendship with the legendary basketball coach Rick Majerus, who asked him to represent him when he was negotiating a contract with the University of Utah.
“I had never represented anyone who was a coach in a contract negotiation. He said ‘you’ve got about two weeks to figure it out. But my mother wants you to represent me,’” he said of Majerus, who was a coach of the Marquette’s men’s basketball team. “Majerus basically opened my eyes to a future of young people and lawyers wanting to have a specialty in this area of the law.”
Later, Greenberg helped legendary Marquette coach Al McGuire with a television contract and with documentation for a basketball league in South Africa, another relationship that he said was influential in his career and the creation of the institute.
The institute’s growth has paralleled the astronomic rise of the sports industry, which now entails multibillion-dollar agreements between the leagues and television networks, massive stadium deals that carry price tags well above $1 billion and superstar athletes who are recognized globally.
It all points back to America’s love affair with sports, Greenberg said.
“Because it takes us away from our daily drudgery and all the problem we had and puts us in wonderful Wonderland,” he said. “This is not going to stop. The popularity of sports in the United States is incredible.”