Understanding the Business of Sports: Samantha Ojo

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

For most athletes, working in one professional sports league is a dream come true. But associate Samantha Ojo didn’t stop at just one. Before she joined Morgan Lewis’s global sports industry team, Samantha worked for the NFL, NFL Players Association, LA Clippers, and the MLB Players Association, gaining a true appreciation for how a professional sports team runs. She applies that knowledge, along with her college athletics experience, as a labor and employment lawyer for our sports clients. Samantha shares a bit more of her story, and tells us how being an athlete has made her a better lawyer and colleague.

Were you a college athlete?

I was on the track and field team at the University of Southern California (USC) and competed in the 400-meter dash and the triple jump. Competing as a Division I athlete allowed me to push myself to new limits, make lifelong friends, and create a really fantastic college experience. Competing at such a high level also exposed me to the legal and business side of professional athletics, which solidified that I wanted to work in this space.

How did you first start working with professional sports organizations?

As a senior in college, my first job in sports was a marketing and sponsorship internship for the LA Clippers. We were responsible for all of the in-arena entertainment that dealt with the team’s sponsors, and we also worked in the front office tracking sponsorship data, learning the back end of the operation, and even pitching ideas. It was a really great first exposure to the business side of sports. After the Clippers, I worked at the NFL Players Association, NFL, and MLB Players Association.

What was the biggest similarity in the way professional sports entities operate?

The biggest constant that I learned through working at these players associations and at the NFL was that no matter how high profile they are, professional athletes are still employees at work, and labor and employment law is of paramount importance in these spaces. Without strong advocates on both sides of the sports labor space, we wouldn’t have the leagues and teams that we all love today, and it’s an honor to be able to play a role in that.

What was your favorite experience during that time of your career?

It’s hard to choose just one! During my gap year, my role as the executive intern at the NFL Players Association solidified my decision to attend law school and exposed me to the many facets of labor and employment law that drew me to this field. I was able to work on such high-level matters, like the then-breaking CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] work, at such a young age.

Did you always plan to become a lawyer?

Deep down I did. I started working at a small firm when I was 14 and worked there on and off throughout high school and college. That experience showed me that becoming a lawyer was a possibility. The firm was founded and run by a Black woman, and I had never seen someone who looked like me run their own firm before. I knew I wanted to work in sports, however, and I also went to a science-focused high school, so I started college thinking that I would become an orthopedic surgeon. After about three years of fighting it, I decided to switch paths and pivot toward law school. I kept my human biology major but added minors in sports media studies and business law to get more exposure, and it ended up preparing me well for the career I have now.

What lessons that you’ve learned from sports apply to how you work as a lawyer?

The list is truly endless. I’ve always been a hard worker, but the work ethic you develop as a college athlete is truly unmatched. The drive to push yourself further as an athlete allows you to unlock a new level within yourself. So even if it feels like you’ve already spent all of your energy, whether digging deep to sprint up a sand dune at 5 AM or find the answer to a complex question, you know there is always a little more you can give.

My work ethic and my natural tendency to put others ahead of myself in the pursuit of achieving a team goal pair well in such a collaborative group like the Labor Management Relations practice at Morgan Lewis. Competing in a sport like track and field, which has a huge individual component, taught me to continually strive to outdo myself, allowing me to become a better and more efficient advocate and colleague.

Samantha Ojo