By: DaWon Baker, @dawonbbaker
Front Office Sports is glad to have sat down with Tammi Gaw. Tammi is an athletic trainer and practicing attorney, who now works within numerous roles in sports business and sports law. She currently serves as the Vice President of Administration for the World Police & Fire Games. Tammi has also started her own consulting firm, Advantage Rule, and is a contributing author to Empower: Women’s Stories of Breakthrough Discovery and Triumph. Check out why Tammi will always love entrepreneurs as she shares how to succeed in your space in the sports industry.
Give us a description of your career trajectory.
I was born in Colorado, and I did my undergrad at the University of Oklahoma majoring in Health and Sport Science. After graduation, I sat for the National Athletic Training Association certification exam, and am still a board certified Athletic Trainer. In 1997, I went to California where I also got my masters in Sports Administration from Cal Baptist. In 2004 I left my full time athletic training practice to get my law degree, from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. I then moved to Washington D.C., where I passed the Maryland Bar exam and waived into the District of Columbia bar. I then worked for a non-profit for four years as an in house counsel, and left in 2011 to start my own consulting firm, Advantage Rule. I now work in various aspects of sports law and business and corporate management. Most recently, I took a position as the Vice President for the organizing committee for the 2015 World Police and Fire Games, which is the Olympics for police officers and fire fighters from around the world. In 2015, we had ten thousand athletes compete in the Games.
You are technically still an athletic trainer and lawyer, correct? How did you use the knowledge and skills from athletic training to transition in your positions now?
Yes, there are seven of us (that we know of) who are still board certified athletic trainers and practicing attorneys, it’s amazing the dedication I see from us as a group. One thing that I think about and can relate to is the concussion movement. This is just an example, but my ability to understand an issue like that from both sides of the locker room has proven to be invaluable. A lot of people talk about it, including lawyers, and they understand it from a legal perspective, but I also understand it from the perspective of a 20 year-old kid who cannot remember what he had for breakfast that morning.
That’s just one example, but when you are in the athletic training room, you are dealing with various departments within the athletic department, like sports information. I’ve had instances where we had to blackout windows because we had a student athlete who was a high draft pick and was on the training table, and the media were attempting to get photos of him. I also have a different viewpoint of how an athletic department budget really looks like, from both sides of the pitch. The experience was invaluable, not only from the job perspective but also from working with multiple sports. It has given me the opportunity to see things in a holistic way that not everyone has the opportunity to see.
How has your law background influenced your career in sport?
It finished the trifecta, which was the last piece of having a granular understanding of the business and law aspects of sport. It kind of served as the last player on the chessboard for me. In this case, I already understood the game, but that’s when I got to learn things like antitrust issues. That said, I feel like I’m always learning despite having a good understanding. If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
What made you want to start your own consulting firm? What made you want to establish your own brand and company in sport business?
The word brand is the key. I have a great deal of varied interests. When I was with the non-profit, I was working with international sovereign debt litigation policy matters, and I got to address the UK Parliament in Westminster. These were things that were completely different to my experience working in sport. I give you this background to say that the best way for me to maintain and communicate my brand occupying in this unique space that I have, was to create my own space. ‘When people ask me, what do you do?’ There are as many different answers as the people who are asking, because it depends on the perspective that they’re asking about.
I started Advantage Rule, which is a soccer term that means to ‘play on through the foul,’ it started as a blog I had years ago. I decided to keep with the name, but it’s given me opportunities to take contracts of varying lengths in sports law and business, and it allows me to navigate the speaking scene as well. I’ve spoken on things like concussion issues and athlete rights, which I’m very passionate about because of what I saw firsthand in my experiences. I saw what happened to my athletes during their time in the sport and how it stayed with them. Advantage Rule allows me to maintain the ownership and control of my own brand, while doing the variety of things that I’m passionate about, without being pigeon holed to a singular job or position.
Can you briefly explain Advantage Rule?
Advantage Rule is a vehicle to provide consulting services and to take on global projects in the areas of sports law, business and medicine. Additionally, Advantage Rule advocates for issues of athletes’ rights and organizational diversity at the senior management and board levels.
What are your duties in your current role with the World Police and Fire Games?
Right now I am the Vice President of Administration. I oversee the finance, legal, accommodation, budgets, risk management and insurance policies and the HR division of the organizing committee. My position is an example of how many elements go into making a sporting event happen. I have the experience and flexibility to now take jobs that deal with these aspects, such as working with large scale, multi-venue arenas, in addition to directing people and maintaining integrity and fiscal responsibility across cost centers.
As an entrepreneur, how do you see entrepreneurship shaping sports law or sport business?
People usually see entrepreneurship as a business strategy or something that you do, but I see it as a mentality. In sports for instance, it just isn’t as straightforward as people think. If you’re even just talking about collegiate athletics, there are such a diverse number of issues. When it comes to international legal scandals like the FIFA scandal, the people I value working with come from an entrepreneurship type of mentality. People with entrepreneurial minds are the ones I want to collaborate with on those issues.
I see it in action whenever I go to the Sports Lawyer Association. You can see a different breed of young professionals coming out, and some veterans too, but I definitely see it taking shape in sport business. It’s also not about how many people can go and start their own consulting firm or how many can start their own agencies, or something similar. I really think entrepreneurship is not something you do, but a mindset and becoming a creative problem solver.
With your entrepreneurial mindset, do you see anything playing a big role in sport in 2016?
The CTE and concussion issue is not going anywhere anytime soon. Personally, from a social justice perspective, I also think that athletes’ rights have hit a pivot point. As far as college athletics, even professionals but certainly in college athletics, there has been an exploitation of race and class in the athletes. I am really interested to see how it will go about and how we will address it. It may not be as simple as unionizing the players, but rather to finally deal with the question of how to get the student athletes a seat at the table. It is time we start looking at real questions and real issues, not just the fluffy stuff.
What we saw at the University of Missouri, I think those kids changed the game, whether it be for the leverage athletes have or the debate about unionization, I think that we’re going to see some movement in college athletes and their seat at the table. I think that they realized that they have some leverage and that they need to be consulted on issues outside of athletics, such as fair education or quality of life. Internationally, the FIFA scandal, and now the doping scandal, will remain a big part of sport in 2016.
What advice do you have for those getting in sport business, sports law, or those looking to start their own brand?
The biggest advice I offer is that sport is not a zero sum game. I have worked with a variety people that have been too afraid of others coming up and stealing their job, or who have downplayed opportunities for the upcoming generation. There is enough room here for anyone who has a passion for working in sport. I see a lot of students and young professionals get discouraged because they compare themselves to established professional and don’t see how they can carve their own niche.
Various people have reached out to me, and want to talk about making this transition. I see a lot of people get discouraged because they are such established professionals and they don’t see how they can carve out their own niche. Get in and find that niche, there is enough room here. I would also suggest that you leave the win at all costs attitude at the door. That does not foster healthy business relationships. I don’t think a lot of academic or law school programs teach that very well. I think some schools are too focused on career stats, job reporting stats, and things like that.
I advise all professionals, especially young professionals, to find a good role model, do the jobs with integrity, and act as positive influences. My professional career has been informed by people like Anita Clark, the Assistant Athletic Trainer when I was at OU. She showed me how to do my job with dedication and integrity. Also, don’t have the attitude of climbing the ladder and pulling it up behind you, it’s a destructive attitude, give back. One of my favorite quotes is from David Whyte, “What you can plan is too small for you to live.” There is no ceiling and I wish more young people embraced that and had that confidence.
Any last words you’d like to leave with us?
I like to tell people that if you’ve taken an unconventional path in your career, be proud of it and use that experience as leverage. Figure out how to explain it in an elevator speech too. It’s up to you to create the narrative of your goals and aspirations. It’s up to you to explain why you took the route that you did. When I hire, I look for unique resumes and experiences. A lot of times those candidates are outside of the box thinkers. I would also advise people to go to conferences and networking events. Learn to network and build those relationships organically. We can tell who is trying to build organically relationships, compared to those just “picking your brain.” Create your own narrative.
This interview is another edition of “Winning Edge Wednesday” in congruence with our partnership with the Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Every Wednesday we will be featuring the story of a woman or minority working in the sports business industry.If you know of a professional you would like featured, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.