Rutgers football had just joined the Big East when Anastasia Danias RC’95 arrived as a student, and she quickly became a loyal fan, chanting “R-U, Rah, Rah” at home games. A high school classmate of hers was one of the team’s stars—Marco Battaglia SMLR’18, the All-American tight end—and the bouncers at the Corner Tavern, a popular New Brunswick nightspot where Danias worked as a bartender, were on the team, too. She was a Sigma Kappa sister, with a double major in political science and administration of justice, and was thinking about a career with the FBI. Danias interned with the New Jersey attorney general’s narcotics task force, where the director, who was a former FBI agent and a lawyer, started steering her toward law school. One of her tailgating acquaintances from the football games was aiming for law school, too: Myles Pistorius RC’93, whose roommate, Tim Pernetti RC’93, SCILS’95, was another tight end on the team. Pistorius was a James Dickson Carr scholar, and it was his professor in an honors seminar on law and the media who saw in him a potential lawyer. 

Danias went to Fordham Law School and then into a job with a large New York firm. While researching a case late one night on the website of the International Trademark Association, she spotted a blind job ad that intrigued her: a sports organization looking for a lawyer with experience in litigating intellectual property cases. She sent a résumé; six months later, she got a call. “I had forgotten that I applied,” she says. “When the caller said she was from the NFL, I thought, ‘Am I getting season tickets?’ ”

Just five years after graduating from Rutgers, she was hired as a junior lawyer for NFL Properties, the league’s marketing arm. Today, she is senior vice president and chief litigation officer for the NFL, working from the league’s headquarters on Park Avenue in New York City.



MYLES PISTORIUS RC’93, MIAMI DOLPHINS “I was pleasantly surprised there were that many of us [working as general counsels in the NFL]. I’d  venture to say that there’s no other school that is so well represented.”  

Jon Willey/Miami Dolphins

Pistorius went to Columbia Law School, where his graduation speaker was a fellow Rutgers and Columbia graduate,  David Stern RC’63 (a 1999 inductee into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni), commissioner of the NBA for 30 years. “I took whatever sports and entertainment law classes were available,” says Pistorius. “And when he spoke, I thought, ‘That’s definitely what I want to do.’ ” Like Danias, he took a job at a big New York firm, and, also like her, he soon left for another offer—cutting his pay by half to work for the NBA, where he spent 15 years, rising to senior vice president of content and business affairs. In 2015, he switched sports and became general counsel for the Miami Dolphins

The general counsels for the NFL teams have an annual meeting with the lawyers for the league itself, and when Pistorius attended his first, he found he was the newest member of an unusual club. “I was pleasantly surprised there were that many of us,” he says about the five other Rutgers graduates in the room: Danias; Hymie Elhai NLAW’02, the New York Jets;  William J. Heller RC’75, the New York Giants; Jason Cohen CLAW’06, the Dallas Cowboys; and Cassie Sadowitz SAS’09, the Jacksonville Jaguars. “I’d venture to say that there’s no other school that is so well represented.”

The NFL doesn’t keep a tally of what schools produced the most lawyers in the league, but the consensus among the Rutgers group is that it’s not Notre Dame or Michigan or USC or some other football powerhouse, but the school that was the birthplace of college football. There is no set path at Rutgers for becoming a sports lawyer. Each of the six alumni followed a different route to the NFL. 

Danias got there first. Among her early assignments with NFL Properties was patrolling the parking lots at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the former home for both  the Jets and Giants, looking for counterfeit merchandise with investigators. She worked on trademark and copyright cases—in her office is an old Baltimore Ravens helmet with the evidence tag still on it—and soon found herself taking minutes as the recording secretary at the owners’ meetings. 

“It was incredibly intimidating, walking into this room with so many of the people who had created this league that was historic and remarkable in so many ways,” says Danias, who was barely 30 and one of the few women in the room. “I found pictures of everyone who was going to be there, because part of my job was taking attendance. I didn’t want to guess.”

The NFL’s legal office is the size of a small law firm, with about 20 lawyers, and the higher she rose through the ranks, the higher the stakes were in the cases she handled. Her two biggest were the antitrust litigation that arose from the 2011 lockout, when the players and owners couldn’t come to a consensus on a new collective bargaining agreement; and the long-running class action suit by former players seeking damages for concussion-related  injuries. “We negotiated a first-of-its-kind settlement that provides significant and meaningful benefits to former NFL players who need them most,” says Danias, noting that the first payments to players from the concussion fund were made last year. 

The monthlong training camp that precedes the NFL season is her favorite time of the year. “It’s like New Year’s for all the clubs because everybody’s got the same record. The time leading up to kickoff is just filled with hope and possibility,”  says Danias.

Elhai got there next. “It was October 6, 2002, against the Kansas City Chiefs,” he says, recalling what he expected to be his last game working as an intern for the Jets. “My father was giving me the typical parental thing: ‘I put you through college. I put you through law school. Why are you wasting your time with the Jets?’ ” 

Elhai, who played football and baseball at Johns Hopkins University, went to Rutgers’ law school in Newark, thinking he might become a sports agent. After his first year at law school, a friend connected him with an internship in the Jets event marketing department; the team had no formal legal department at the time. He returned the next summer and also worked on game days, doing whatever anybody needed done. And the very day his father suggested that maybe it was time to get a real job, the Jets offered him one. “They said, ‘When can you start?’ and I said, ‘Tomorrow.’ ”



WILLIAM J. HELLER RC’75, NEW YORK GIANTS “Was I a Giants fan growing up? Oh, God, yes. Y.A. Tittle was my first hero,” says Heller, who wore 14, the number of the legendary Giants quarterback, when he was himself a quarterback for the Hackensack (New Jersey) High School Comets.

HYMIE ELHAI NLAW’02, NEW YORK JETS  “If I go to the pizza place or the deli in Caldwell, New Jersey, near my parents, everybody knows what I do, and everybody is asking, ‘Oh, what’s going on with the team?’ ”

Aaaron Houston

By 2012 he was the Jets’ general counsel, with an office overlooking the field at the team’s training facility in Florham Park, New Jersey. “If I go to the pizza place or the deli in Caldwell, New Jersey, near my parents, everybody knows what I do, and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, what’s going on with the team?’ ” says  Elhai, a lifelong Jets fan who remembers huddling under blankets in the stands when the team played at Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadow, New York. “Everybody gives you their opinion. Everybody’s a general manager: ‘This guy stinks; why do you have him?’ When we had Phil Simms’s son on the team and we were sort of struggling at that point, everybody wanted Matt Simms to be the starting quarterback, just because of his last name.”

Heller came in 2010, joining the other team that plays in East Rutherford, at MetLife Stadium. “Was I a Giants fan growing up? Oh, God, yes. Y.A. Tittle was my first hero,” says Heller, who wore 14, the number of the legendary Giants quarterback, when he was himself a quarterback for the Hackensack (New Jersey) High School Comets. He was recruited by several colleges to play football, but he had an epiphany that “going to college to play football was not the way to get into a great law school. So, I went to the only college to which I applied that did not recruit me, and that was Rutgers.”

He graduated Phi Beta Kappa (with high honors in economics), went to the University of Pennsylvania law school, and was a partner at the venerable Newark law firm of McCarter & English, where he headed the intellectual property practice and started doing some work for one of the firm’s longtime clients: Y.A. Tittle’s old team.

John Mara, the Giants’ president, is himself a lawyer, and when he decided he wanted to hire the team’s first general counsel, he asked Heller without interviewing anyone else. He offered him the job on April 1, and when Heller called his family with the news, “they thought it was an April Fools’ Day joke,” he says.

“It’s not like advising clients who are not steeped in the law,”Heller says about working for Mara. “He’s a smart lawyer.”

Heller’s busiest season is the off-season, from April to  August: negotiating sponsor contracts, selling suites, and  handling facilities issues with other lawyers, including Elhai  of the Jets. 

“People think I come in in the morning and I go talk to [general manager] Dave Gettleman about who should be on the team, then I go talk to Coach Shurmur about game plans, then I pop down and talk to [quarterback] Eli about his technique,” Heller says. “That never happens. I’m a lawyer for the team; I deal with legal issues. When you tell me that I have the dream job, I say it’s really sexy when I do the annual whirlpool maintenance contract. But the fact of the matter is, it’s better than private practice.” This was especially true in Heller’s first full season, when the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2012, earning him both a ring (“I wore it to my eldest son’s wedding, only on request”) and a trip to the White House, where he introduced himself to U.S. attorney general Eric Holder. “We had a very nice chat, and he said, ‘Do you want to switch jobs?’ and I said, ‘Not a chance.’”



JASON COHEN CLAW’06, DALLAS COWBOYS “Jerry Jones is inherently a risk-taker, and the challenge for a lawyer is not to be Dr. No all the time, but instead to say, ‘If this is your goal, here is how I would minimize the risk.’ ”

James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

Cohen grew up a Giants fan, too, as he admitted in his job interview with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in 2013. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to blow this, but if I lie to him, he’ll see right through it. And if I tell him the truth, he’ll be upset.’ So, I quickly said, ‘Look, if I’m going to be your general counsel, we need to have a real open dialogue; I can’t sugarcoat anything,’ ” Cohen says. “He kind of chuckled and he pointed to his Super Bowl case and showed me that they had a few more Super Bowls than the Giants and they’d have a few more in the future and we just kind of laughed about it.”

The conversion was complete when the Cowboys beat the Giants on a last-second field goal, 24–21, on November 24, 2013, as Cohen watched with the Jones family at MetLife Stadium. “I was cheering and giving everybody high fives and I thought, ‘Well, that pretty much did it,’ ” he says.

After graduating from Brandeis University, Cohen went to the same law school as his father, Ronald Cohen CLAW’77:  Rutgers’ law school in Camden. He had been a three-sport athlete at Livingston (New Jersey) High School and was determined to do his lawyering in the sports world. “I live to consume sports,” he says. “If I had a good seat, I could watch a great ping-pong game.”

First came an internship with the Oakland Raiders, then a job with the Minnesota Vikings, and detours into the women’s professional soccer league and NASCAR before he got the call from the Cowboys. Cohen’s office at the team’s practice facility is just a few doors away from the office from which Jones runs all his many businesses, not just the Cowboys. “When he calls for me to stop down and go over something with him, my brain is racing. Is it a football issue? Is it a stadium issue? Is it a real  estate issue? Is it oil and gas? I tell people it’s a pop quiz,” he says. “Jones is inherently a risk-taker, and the challenge for a lawyer is not to be Dr. No all the time, but instead to say, ‘If this is your goal, here is how I would minimize the risk.’”

Cohen’s job, he came to see, is not so different from his father’s. “A one-man shop with a shingle: a real estate closing one day, a divorce the next, and a DUI the day after,” he says about his father’s law practice. “He and I laugh about it. It’s under the umbrella of the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones, but the idea is that the shingle is still out. Come on in and let’s figure it out.”



CASSIE SADOWITZ SAS’09, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS “We support  a lot of businesses in our owner’s portfolio,” including entertainment, real estate and  development, an English soccer team, and the Jaguars, one of the NFL’s younger teams. “We’ve always had this young start-up mentality.”

James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

In Jacksonville, Florida, Sadowitz has a shingle out, too. “We support a lot of businesses in our owner’s portfolio,” she says: entertainment, real estate and development, a soccer team in England, as well as the Jaguars, one of the league’s younger teams. “We’ve always had this young start-up mentality.” 

And it was her young start-up skills that brought her to the NFL. Her parents started a computer business in the 1980s, and she started a web-development business of her own when she was still in high school that she kept going through her time at Rutgers. She finished in three years, summa cum laude, squeezing in internships at and CNN as well as time to camp out for tickets for the Louisville–Rutgers game during that golden season of 2006. Looking for an internship for the summer after her second year at California Western School of Law, she sent an unsolicited LinkedIn message to the in-house lawyer for the Los Angeles Angels baseball team. “I don’t even think we talked about sports,” she says about her interview with David Cohen. “We spent all of our time talking about technology and social media.”

She spent the summer with the Angels, and after graduation  David Cohen offered her a job with the NFL team where he had moved as the new general counsel, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At a conference of the Sports Lawyers Association, she met Megha Parekh, the chief legal officer of the Jaguars, who also turned out to be a fellow graduate of Manalapan (New Jersey) High School. “We didn’t know about each other; she was a senior when I was a freshman,” Sadowitz says. “And then she had an opening.”

She started as the Jaguars’ general counsel in 2014, and she kept the team’s schedule in mind when she was planning her wedding for earlier this year. It was on February 10, the week after the Super Bowl. “That was by design,” she says. “We did make it to the postseason this year. We were one game away, so thankfully I planned it right.”

Pistorius has only recently begun to use the first-person plural when referring to a team, after all his years at the league office of the NBA. “The best thing about working for an NFL team is that you can be emotionally involved and express your allegiances,” says Pistorius. “At the NBA when you went to games, you’d have to basically sit on your hands and appear to be neutral. But after coming to Miami, I’m out there with everybody else on Sundays.”

The job has other benefits, too. “Going from watching Dan  Marino on TV to getting to know him personally is a perk,” he says of the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback. And when he goes to away games, he gets to travel with the team. 

And his next Rutgers reunion is only as far away as his next meeting with his fellow NFL lawyers. “We’ve never sat at the same table and started singing ‘R-U, Rah, Rah,’” he says. “But maybe we will, going forward.” •