• Donald V. Watkins

It's Time To Compete for a NFL Ownership Opportunity, Again

Updated: 4 days ago

By: Donald V. Watkins

October 14, 2021


To my knowledge, I am the only African-America who has come close to acquiring a general partnership interest in a National Football League (NFL) professional football franchise. It occurred when I pursued an opportunity to acquire the Rosenbloom family's 60% majority interest in the St. Louis Rams (which is now known as the L.A. Rams), from 2008 to 2010.


I first wrote about this exciting opportunity in a December 9, 2018 article titled, "Chasing a NFL Team Ownership Opportunity." The article documented my efforts to acquire the Rams.


Goldman Sachs (New York City) represented the Rosenbloom family in this transaction. JP Morgan Chase (New York City) advised me in the United States. Seymour Pierce, Ltd.(London), a 138-year-old investment banking firm specializing in the sale and purchase of major professional sports teams, arranged the necessary financing for the Rams transaction with Citibank (New York City). Law firms in London, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, and Kansas City represented me in the transaction,


The article also hyperlinked key documents between the NFL, Goldman Sachs, and me that established my status as a qualified and capable buyer who progressed through each stage of the Rams acquisition process. At the end of this process, the Rams organization presented me with the proposed purchase agreement for the transaction. My attorneys made the necessary changes to the agreement and returned it to Goldman Sachs.


Throughout the acquisition process, the NFL and Goldman Sachs advised all potential buyers of Stan Kroenke's right of first refusal to buy the Rosenbloom family's interest, if and when the family chose to sell it. At the time, Kroenke was the sole limited partner in the Rams with a 40% ownership interest.


For months, my acquisition team waited to see what Stan Kroenke would do. I sat on pins and needles during this long waiting period.


On the last day of the right of first refusal period, Kroenke elected to purchase the Rosenbloom family's 60% interest, thereby making him the 100% owner of the Rams. With this move, my efforts to acquire the Rams ended.


After the purchase, Kroenke relocated the Rams to Los Angeles. The franchise has enjoyed tremendous football success in L.A.


Jon Gruden's Disparaging Remarks Signal the Urgent Need for Black Ownership


In light of Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden's sudden and forced resignation this past weekend over certain racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments he made in emails Gruden sent to NFL executives and corporate sponsors between 2011 and 2018, the time has come for me to compete again for a general partner ownership interest in the NFL.


Many Americans are wondering why Gruden felt comfortable enough within the NFL's white, male-dominated culture to express such remarks in writing. Part of the answer lies in the fact that wealthy white Americans hold the general partnership interest in 31 of the 32 NFL teams today. The only minority owner is Shahid Kahn, who is a wealthy Muslim-American. The NFL recognizes these general partners as team owners.


While there is a sprinkling of African-American limited partners in several NFL teams, they have no power or authority over the business affairs of these teams. Likewise, these blacks have no influence in setting the NFL's rules, policies, or business agenda.


Even though black players make up 70% of all players in the NFL, the business operations of these teams are overwhelmingly white and male-dominated. All of the owners are billionaires.


Many of these owners have consolidated asset portfolios that are far greater in value than their individual NFL team. While these owners know some black celebrities, professional athletes, and entertainers, none of them knows a black business peer who owns and operates major mainstream international businesses.


Making Another Run at an Ownership Opportunity


I intend to compete for another NFL ownership opportunity as soon as I am cleared by the appropriate legal authorities to do so. The fact that I was very close to acquiring the Rosenbloom Family's general partnership interest in the Rams from 2008 to 2010 serves as an invaluable experience I can use to build upon. What is more, the financing necessary for another NFL acquisition opportunity is still available to me.


With respect to the NFL's background check, I can demonstrate to the League, by clear and convincing evidence, (a) why I was lynched by a Blitzkrieg of federal law and state enforcement agencies in two Deep South "Red States" (i.e., Alabama and Georgia) and (b) how I was railroaded inside a Birmingham federal court in the legal proceedings that resulted in my 2019 criminal conviction. My conviction is on appeal and will likely be decided early next year.


The NFL would be interested to know that the same evidence that formed the basis for the government's "investor fraud" allegations in the Birmingham case was first reviewed by highly qualified career federal prosecutors in New Jersey in connection with a federal lawsuit filed against me by a former New York Jets player. Led by Mr. Andrew Kogan, the top economic crimes prosecutor in the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's office, a Jersey Federal grand jury investigation cleared me of all wrongdoing in this matter in 2016. The Jets player's civil lawsuit was eventually dismissed, with prejudice and with no monetary payment from me or an insurance company.


The prosecution team in Birmingham was led by Lloyd Peeples, a homegrown racist and failed pizza store operator who could not even sell pizza by the slice. He was successful in securing a criminal indictment and conviction only because he pursued his case in a Deep South venue where the legitimate successes of black entrepreneurs are routinely marginalized and/or destroyed as a sport by local white law enforcement agencies and media pundits.


What is more, during my trial in 2019, I attempted to introduce the complete file of NFL/Rams transactional documents as evidence to establish that the alternative energy company in which my investors purchased an economic interest had real monetary value. JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Seymour Pierce thought so. Lloyd Peeples objected on the grounds that this evidence was "irrelevant, immaterial, and would only confuse the jury." He conceded (outside the presence of the jury) that the transactional documents were genuine and that my interaction with Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Seymour Pierce regarding the Rams transaction was a real deal. The trial judge sustained Peeples' objection and blocked this evidence from being presented to the jury. After the judge barred this evidence, prosecutors were allowed to argue that my company had no monetary value.


The Rams transactional documents were, indeed, relevant and material. The handful of professional athletes who invested in my alternative energy company between 2007 and 2010 did so primarily because they wanted to participate with me as economic participants in the Rams transaction, as well. I leveraged my energy company's assets to secure financing for the Rams transaction. Because I was leveraging assets in which all of us had an economic stake, these investors would have been entitled to receive an automatic and proportional economic interest in the Rams, as well.


I delivered on my commitment to compete aggressively in the Rams acquisition opportunity for over two years. I made it all the way through the NFL's and Goldman Sach's background vetting and bid process. I had the Rams purchase agreement in my hands. At the last minute, the team did not sell to me or any outsider because Stan Kroenke exercised his right to buy the Rosenbloom family's general partnership interest.


A Bizarre Act of Betrayal


One of the prosecution's key witnesses against me was an economic participant in my energy company who served as one of my Atlanta-based attorneys on the Rams transaction. He received a refund of his purchase price in the amount of $750,000 for his 18 months of documented work on the Rams transaction. He also received an increase of 1% in his purchased economic participation in my company, at no cost to him, as an inducement for serving as one of my attorneys on the deal. The compensation for this attorney was far cheaper than what my Houston-based law firm had quoted me in writing for the same transactional services.


This attorney worked on the transaction from the beginning to the end. His last assignment on the Rams transaction was an in-depth review of the complicated purchase agreement, to which he submitted written edits.


At my trial, this attorney testified as a witness for the government. He claimed that he performed no services on the Rams transaction beyond attending one meeting with me in Houston. Scores of emails between us over the 18-month Rams transaction period flatly contradicted his testimony. Yet, he never returned any of the $750,000 he was paid, or rescinded the 1% increase he received in his economic participation.


After the trial, I learned from another Atlanta-based lawyer, who was in a position to know, that this witness may have had disciplinary issues with the Georgia Bar Association that were known to prosecutors, but unknown to me.


Epilogue


For the last three years, I have worked hard to position myself for another run at acquiring a general partnership interest in a NFL team. I can meet the objective qualifications as a team owner. I understand and participate in major international business. I can arrange the necessary acquisition financing. I am still able to pass the NFL's extensive background check. I also understand the process for competing for a NFL team. I do not need the NFL to relax its ownership rules pursuant to some ad hoc, Jon Gruden-inspired, knee-jerk affirmative action policy in order to compete successfully for a general partnership opportunity.


I am a fierce competitor. I am accustomed to winning "come-from-behind" victories in extremely tough contests where cheating against me is a rampant feature. My resume is littered with accomplishments that many people said I could not achieve under any circumstances.


The abuse I have experienced over the last 8 years from COINTELPRO operators in various federal government agencies is documented in my October 10, 2021 article, "I Survived a Law Enforcement Lynching." This lynching by rogue federal and state agents has not deterred me in any way. To the contrary, it has toughened my resolve to become a general partner in a NFL team.


No one has a constitutional right to own a NFL team. However, my preparation, focus, perseverance, hard work, luck, and the ability to turn back the racist forces that oppose our progress in America will go a long way toward reaching my goal.



IMAGE: Raider's coach, Jon Gruden prior to resigning

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