Leading the Field

At USA Track & Field, School of Law alumnus Norman Wain (JD ’96) is fueled by a passion for sports and a knack for the law.

July 27, 2016  | 4 min read

On Thursday, May 12, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Run Gum, a performance maximizing gum used by athletes to boost their energy with ingredients like caffeine, B-vitamins, and taurine.

A few months prior Run Gum had declared war against USA Track & Field (USATF) and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) for restricting athletes competing at the Olympic Team Trials from wearing attire emblazoned with their logo. Under current USOC rules, however, these athletes can only wear uniforms displaying logos of certain apparel or equipment companies approved by the USOC during the Olympic Team Trials, a restriction put in place to protect the value of the Olympic brand.

School of Law alumnus Norman Wain, USATF general counsel and chief of business affairs, was at the helm of the defense team that successfully defeated the high-profile antitrust case that has caused a stir within both legal and athletics communities.

“Judge McShane’s ruling confirmed that USATF was justified in complying with the USOC’s regulations,” explains Wain. “USATF will continue to support its athletes by honoring USOC rules and ensuring that its athletes have the opportunity to compete at the highest levels.”

Wain’s current position draws upon his legal education and expertise, but also engages him in a business capacity where he is involved in all of the strategic initiatives and objectives of the organization. Beyond business, it enables Wain to be part of an organization that thrives on live attendance, TV, and a passionate fan base—things that he knows much about on a personal level.

“I am absolutely a sports guy interested in law,” enthuses the sports lawyer who determined in his first year at Pepperdine Law that if he was going to make a significant investment in his career by going to law school, he wanted it to be something he was truly passionate about.

While his classmates interviewed for legal jobs for the summer following their 1L year, Wain scoured sports-related opportunities, an area of the law that he believed bridged both interests.

“I viewed the legal degree as a really practical key that could help me open doors in those pursuits.”

While clerking for a small private practice firm that summer, Wain also volunteered for the American Professional Soccer League (APSL) team called the Los Angeles Salsa. When the APSL shuttered the following season and Major League Soccer (MLS) emerged, he was able to secure an internship with the budding organization and moved his way around to its legal department. After one year, and just before taking the bar exam, Wain knocked on the office door of MLS commissioner Doug Logan and asked, “What do I have to do to get a job here?” While there wasn’t a job lined up for Wain at the time, he worked his way up in the sports and entertainment industry and, after nearly 10 years as vice president of corporate legal affairs at Finish Line, where he gained the invaluable experience of being a corporate generalist, he reconnected with the former commissioner of the MLS, who had become the CEO of USATF.

“Through all of the leadership changes [that took place at USATF], several core principles for the organization remained the same: develop a global presence, develop a true media property, and align merchandising and membership with our events,” he says. “That’s the part I get most excited about: being engaged in more of a business role.”

At USATF, Wain is responsible for overseeing all corporate transactional legal and intellectual property work, in which he monitors and enforces the rights of the organization, and also oversees the athlete representative program, helping shape it into one of the premier agent programs within the Olympic sports movement. He is involved with the USATF anti- doping initiative, making sure that all protocols are followved and that athletes are well educated in all related matters, and was also integral in the launch of USATF.tv, the organization’s own digital media platform.

This spring a group of Pepperdine Law students and alumni met with Wain at the 42nd annual Sports Lawyers Association Conference in Los Angeles, where he learned he was elected to serve on the organization’s board of directors. He had also returned to his alma mater earlier this year to speak to current students about his career path.

“I was the guy who sat at the back of the class and said nothing. Now all of a sudden here I am talking about how I broke into the industry,” he recalls. “My message was all about persistence and staying focused on what you truly want to do.”

This summer the School of Law will launch a certificate in entertainment, media, and sports law program, part of a larger University effort to expand offerings and opportunities where those disciplines merge.

“There is tremendous student interest in this area, and our location is the epicenter of entertainment and sports, especially now that we have a new professional sports team coming to L.A.,” explains Maureen Weston, professor of law and director of the Entertainment, Media, and Sports Dispute Resolution Project at the School of Law.

The certificate program will offer a structured curriculum and an active industry-speaker series and will work closely with students to involve them in sports and entertainment advocacy, arbitration, and negotiation competitions. “We want to respond to the opportunities that we have here in L.A. and Malibu, but also be part of the global impact of media and sports,” Weston continues.

Wain, whose career in sports and entertainment has been marked by successes and setbacks, explains that focusing on objectives rather than obstacles has allowed him to feel accomplished both professionally and personally.

“You can look at different stages of my career and think I wasn’t going to get to where I ultimately landed,” he says. “There was graduating law school and not having a job lined up. There was moving to Indianapolis when I met my wife and not finding many sports and entertainment opportunities ...”

He advises aspiring lawyers that a strong network and good communication skills, along with professional ethics, are important to leading a successful legal career. “But learn to become a really good lawyer first,” he recommends, “because that will impact the value you will have within your organization.”