"It boils down to leveraging athletes and extracting more of their rightful value. The game is predicated on the athletes. The game is the athlete ... We have to always ensure that athletes receive their equitable share of the pie. "
Chief Operating Officer
Q & A with Xavier James
Chief Operating Officer
On growing up
I was born in Manhattan but I was raised in the South Bronx, not too far from Yankee Stadium, in the 1970s and 80s. I went to school there until I was 13 and then I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to boarding school in Massachusetts. That's when I left the Bronx. At that time, it looked like a war zone, but I wasn't really cognizant of it because that was the only environment that I knew at the time. It was normal for me to play in abandoned buildings, which were all over the Bronx during that period. I became aware of how poor we were when I went outside of the Bronx. We would take school field trips to Manhattan and I would look around at many of the upscale buildings and think, “well this doesn't look like my neighborhood.” Then when I went to boarding school, I was clearly aware of the difference. It was tough, but I had a supportive mother and grandmother (who both raised me), so I was happy.
On his passion for school
I had an affinity for school. At an early age, the connection between school and possible success in life was relatively clear to me. When I realized there was a world outside of the Bronx and school was the conduit to that world, it really motivated me.
On playing sports growing up
I played football, baseball and basketball. First, on the streets of the South Bronx and then I played organized sports at boarding school. Organized sports are obviously far more structured and required more discipline so it took me a while to acclimate. I was better at football than the other sports. I started as a wide receiver, but then quickly switched to running back when I realized that they didn't throw the ball very often at that level. Growing up, football was my favorite sport to play but baseball was my favorite sport to watch.
On his baseball fandom
The Bronx Bombers. I grew up in the famous era of Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Mickey Rivers —that was the team. I lived 5-10 minutes away from Yankee Stadium so I would go to the games sometimes and watch on television all of the time. I was also a voracious collector of baseball cards and Reggie Jackson was my favorite player. I still remember the “Reggie Bar”! The team was so eclectic and Reggie was the most colorful character. He brought a different type of flare to the Yankees. As he said, he was “the straw that stirred the drink.” It was a great way to be introduced to baseball through that iconic team. I don't think there has been a team like that since.
On his education
I went to New York University. After three years of boarding school in Massachusetts, I was anxious to get back to New York. I'm a New Yorker, through and through. From an early age, I wanted to be a lawyer so that motivated me to study political science in college as a prelude to law school. Eighteen years later, I decided to also get my MBA at NYU. Part of the decision to get an advance business degree was because I was already representing athletes and I wanted to be able to help them from not only a legal perspective but also from a business perspective. A lot of that thinking came from my time representing Gary Sheffield, who challenged me to provide both legal and business insight for him.
On starting in the sports business industry
I was a corporate lawyer at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. I then moved in-house as a lawyer at Viacom's publishing division, Simon & Schuster, HBO, and then at MasterCard. I have also had corporate business roles in sports television programming and sports business marketing. My corporate career has always been connected to sports in some form or fashion either as a lawyer or as a business executive. Also, about 14 years ago, I started to advise athletes and initially worked for Oscar De La Hoya, and then I segued into baseball through my work with Gary (Sheffield).
On his new role the MLBPA
This is a kind of culmination of all of my professional experience. I've seen deals and situations on both sides of the equation. I've represented major corporations, so I've had to structure deals from their perspective. I've also represented athletes and structured deals from their side of the equation, too. I believe those two lenses lend themselves to this particular opportunity. I think that I have an affinity for players and have an appreciation for their objectives, especially from a business perspective. I also generally know what works for corporations and how to structure deals from both a legal and business perspective. So, this new position at the Players Association is kind of a confluence of that background. Finally, one of the key reasons I wanted to come here was that I believe in Tony Clark's vision for the Players Association and I think that I can help him achieve his objectives.
On implementing Executive Director Tony Clark's vision
It boils down to leveraging athletes and extracting more of their rightful value. The game is predicated on the athletes. The game is the athlete but that value is not always appreciated by others. We have to always ensure that athletes receive their equitable share of the pie.
On his hobbies
I like to work out and spend time with my wife and kids. My youngest is 16 years old and we are always debating political and other issues, so he keeps me on my toes. I also like to watch documentaries, particularly those focusing on politics and crime mysteries. And, of course, I'm an avid viewer of sports, particularly baseball and football.