Michael Weiner Sports Lawyers Association Award of Excellence

The SLA periodically presents its Michael Weiner Sports Lawyers Award of Excellence, the highest honor that can be bestowed by the association. We are proud to announce George H. Cohen as our 2018 recipient.

George Cohen’s extensive and distinguished career spanned six decades of private- and public-sector labor-management activities. During his tenure at the Washington, DC law firm Bredhoff & Kaiser (1966-2005), his clients included the Major League Baseball Players Association, National Basketball Players Association, National Hockey League Players Association, AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers of America, Director’s Guild of America, and the American Federation of Musicians (for which he served as General Counsel from 1987-2005).

Perhaps the most notable achievement of his sports law representation was Cohen’s amicus argument on behalf of the MLBPA in the landmark1995 case of Silverman v Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee. There, then- district judge Sotomayor held that the League’s unilateral implementation of a radically new system of player compensation violated its duty to bargain in good faith and enjoined the League to restore the status quo. The all-important reality was that the decision saved the 1995 baseball season. Cohen also served as counsel to the NBPA’s Committee on Agent Registration and Regulation. Based upon input received from numerous players detailing the egregious abuses they had suffered at the hands of some agents, he drafted the union’s first comprehensive regulation of the relationship between players and their agents. The regulations were challenged in court by an agent whose application for certification was denied based upon his conduct in connection with his representation of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other players. Cohen successfully argued that an agent’s fiduciary duty to his client applies not only when negotiating and enforcing a players compensation agreement, but also when providing services involving financial and business management and   investment and tax advice. (Collins v NBPA, 850 F.Supp. 1468 (D. Col.1991)). That significant precedent remains the touchstone for players' protection against agent abuses.

Other noteworthy aspects of Cohen’s sports-related activities include his participation in NBPA and NHLPA collective bargaining; his pro bono role as consultant to the US Olympic Committee’s Governance and Ethics Task Force (2003); his service as Union Co-Chair of the first ABA Committee on Sports Law; and teaching Labor Law in Professional Sports as an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. Upon “retirement” from B&K in 2005 he launched a public career as a mediator. After serving as a pro bono member of the mediation panel of the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in 2009 President Obama nominated Cohen to be Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, where he personally mediated several high-profile sports related labor disputes (Major League Soccer and the National Football League) as well as some  involving other major industries (Verizon and CWA/IBEW, US Maritime Alliance and the ILA, and BART and the SEIU and CWA). His awards and recognitions have included "Legends of the DC Bar" (2007); Cornell Law School "Exemplary Public Service" (2014); "Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award" (2014); and American Lawyer”s ”The Best Lawyers in America” for 25 consecutive years. 

George is married to Phyllis the love of his life and an accomplished woodblock printmaker. Their two adult children are stars in their own fields: son Bruce is an Academy Award-winning film producer (“American Beauty”), and daughter Julie is an Emmy Award-winning television documentary film producer (go see “RBG). Each is married to an outstanding individual Gabe Catone and Paul Barrett respectively. And let’s not forget granddaughter Ilaria, just 7 but also destined for stardom!


Previous Award Recipients

1991 Alan I. Rothenberg
1992 Anita L. DeFrantz
1993 Lloyd E. Shefsky and John F. Wendel
1994 Gary Bettman and Jay Moyer
1997 Reuven J. Katz
2000 Stanley H. Kasten
2004 Marvin J. Miller
2005 Paul J. Tagliabue
2007 Alan H. (Bud) Selig
2008 Donna Lopiano
2009 Jerry Reinsdorf
2010 Jerry Colangelo
2011 Gene Upshaw
2012 Dick Moss
2013 Donald Dell
2014 Larry Lucchino
2016 Donald Fehr
2017 Scott Blackmun