David Cornwell is a partner in the Sports, Media and Entertainment practice in the firm’s Atlanta office. He was recently appointed as the Executive Director of the National Football League Coaches Association, representing the interests of nearly 500 assistant coaches in the NFL.
Considered one of the premier attorneys for professional athletes, sports agencies, executives, and companies in the sports industry, Mr. Cornwell’s background includes the representation of a professional sports league (NFL), professional athletes (as a sport agent), and a major sports licensee (the Upper Deck Company). He has also represented professional sports franchises, league and team executives, and coaches. Informed by decades of experience in the sports industry, Mr. Cornwell provides strategic legal and business advice, and assists clients in navigating the maze of complex business and legal issues that arise in the sports industry.
Mr. Cornwell began his 25-year career in sports by joining the National Football League in 1987 as Assistant League Counsel, representing former Commissioners Pete Rozelle, and Paul Tagliabue. During his five-year tenure as NFL counsel, he represented the Commissioner’s office in numerous legal and business affairs, including the antitrust lawsuits filed in the wake of the 1987 player strike. Following the decertification of the National Football Players Association, Mr. Cornwell worked with Commissioner Tagliabue to ensure that the NFL and its players maintained an open channel of communication, resulting in the creation of the NFL Players Advisory Council.
Notable among his many achievements was his leadership in developing and directing the NFL’s minority hiring program, which helped pave the way for the NFL hiring its first black head coaches – Art Shell and Dennis Green. The Washington Post acknowledged his historical contribution in a front-page article in February, 2007 when Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith made history by becoming the first black head coaches to reach the Super Bowl.
In 1992, Mr. Cornwell was recruited by Leigh Steinberg and Jeff Moorad to join their sports agency, where he represented professional athletes such as Howie Long, Warren Moon, Desmond Howard, Junior Seau, Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Greg Anthony, and John Starks.
Mr. Cornwell also served as Vice President and General Counsel for the Upper Deck Company, Upper Deck International, and Upper Deck Authenticated. As the principal negotiator for Upper Deck’s trading card and memorabilia licenses with each of the professional sports leagues and their players associations, Mr. Cornwell negotiated and administered licenses and endorsement agreements that earned Upper Deck and its affiliates in excess of $300 million in annual gross revenues.
He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Sports Lawyer Association, and is a popular lecturer on topics unique to the sports industry, including serving as a guest lecturer at the Wharton Business School. His lecture, “Critical Principles of Negotiations,” incorporates practical examples of his experiences into the techniques used to achieve successful results in negotiations. Mr. Cornwell is also a much sought-after legal analyst for insight on implications of current legal events in the sports industry, including serving as a Legal Analyst during the Michael Vick dog fighting case and Major League Baseball’s steroid investigation.