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Rams' Executive Among Leading Minorities in Sports and Business
By Nick Wagoner
Most kids with dreams of breaking into sports dream of one day playing whatever the sport of their choice is. Bob Wallace was no different.
Wallace dreamed of playing running back in the NFL even as early as the beginning of his college career at Yale. When he realized that he was too small to continue his football career, he focused on finding another avenue into the league.
That’s just about where the similarities between Wallace and most kids end. When Wallace was attempting to break into the NFL, it wasn’t exactly easy for anyone, let alone a minority.
“Racism has always been an issue in America, it still is,” Wallace said. “We just have to understand that. You don’t have to accept it, you don’t have to like it, you just have to understand that it is an issue.”
Fortunately for Wallace, he had a few connections and was blessed with the type of dogged persistence that is required to break into the NFL. After 24 years of service with the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and now the Rams, Wallace has ascended from ballboy to near the top of the league.
Now, he is the executive vice president and general counsel for the Rams. The business side of the organization is Wallace’s main responsibility. He oversees all of the business aspects of the team except scouting and coaching. It is Wallace’s job to help maintain communication among the various departments and make sure they are doing everything they can to help the product on the field by doing their best off it.
Wallace’s ascension has made him one of the most influential minorities in the league, but nevermind all of that. In reality, he has become one of the most influential people in the business.
Growing up in New York, Wallace’s love of sports grew like that of just about any kid privileged enough to watch the team in pinstripes do its thing. His love of football superceded his love of any other sport and it showed, as Wallace was able to continue his football career at Yale.
It didn’t take long for Wallace to try to discover other ways to continue in something NFL-related.
“I played college football at Yale, but was not a starter,” Wallace said. “When you’re not a starter at Yale, not a starter in the Ivy League, your football career is coming to an end.
“I wanted to stay involved in professional athletics. I got a taste of that when I was 15 and worked as a ballboy for the St. Louis Cardinals. That kind of whetted my appetite. It gave me an opportunity to pursue a career in athletics.”
At Yale, Wallace received one of the best educations available, graduating with a degree in liberal arts. Wallace decided that his best way into the league was through law.
He enrolled at Georgetown Law School and wasted no time getting involved with the NFL. With his only prior experience in the league as a ballboy, Wallace found a way back near the NFL.
“I was really interested in just being involved in sports,” Wallace said. “Over time I began to become interested in becoming an agent or becoming involved in a team sport. In my second year of law school I got a chance to work at the NFL league office where I became really enamored with football.”
As a legal intern, Wallace did research for the league in the wake of the Raiders’ first move from Oakland to Los Angeles. As his time at Georgetown wound down, Wallace met with Cardinals’ owner Bill Bidwill. Bidwill was a Georgetown alumnus and had the necessary connections to help Wallace get a chance in the league.
In 1981, while working for the law firm of Guilfoil, Petzall and Shoemake in St. Louis, Wallace’s primary job was as the legal counsel and chief contract negotiator for the Cardinals. It was a big step forward for the league, as Wallace became one of the first minorities to be in such a position.
In fact, there were so few minorities in the league at the time, that Wallace stood out in the group.
“I have been going to NFL meetings since 1981,” Wallace said. “There were a number of times where Pete Rozelle would say in owners meetings that we would obviously need to do a better job of increasing minorities in the league. Everyone in the room would turn around because I was the only one in the room.”
Although Bidwill isn’t the most well thought of man in St. Louis after moving the Cardinals, he deserves credit for helping open an important door. Wallace credits Bidwill with helping him get his opportunity and helping to change the way the NFL viewed minorities.
The situation for minorities extended to the field, also. There were only a handful of minority quarterbacks in the league at the time and the number of minority coordinators and head coaches was almost non-existent.
Wallace worked as the Cardinals legal counsel and chief contract negotiator until 1991. When the Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1987, Wallace attempted to continue in his role, spending as many 165 days per year in the Valley of the Sun.
After finally growing tired of the commuting, Wallace decided to head back to the east coast. He took a similar position with Philadelphia, continuing his contract negotiating duties. This time, though, Wallace wasn’t working through a law firm; he was employed by the organization.
“During my time with the Cardinals, I worked 10 years for the team but not really with the football organization,” Wallace said. “I wanted to have my offices with the football team, get involved with some of the football aspects of it. I had an opportunity to do that when I went to Philadelphia.”
Wallace stayed with the Eagles until 1994. When the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, Wallace came back with them. In his new position, Wallace became one of the highest-ranking minority executives in all of sports.
After gathering plenty of experience, Wallace spent time teaching sports law classes at St. Louis University in the mid-80s. He is now the Secretary/Treasurer of the St. Louis Sports Commission and a board member of the Sports Lawyers’ Association.
When it was announced a few weeks ago that Reggie Fowler was set to become the first African-American owner in the NFL, Wallace couldn’t help but reflect on how far the league has come since he came into the league.
Wallace still has more he would like to accomplish, but he doesn’t want to divulge those plans just yet. In the meantime, he hopes that people will recognize that there is more to what makes a great leader than the color of their skin.
“There just needs to be more opportunity,” Wallace said. “There can be more development made on people based on their skill instead of the way they look.”
With people like Wallace ascending to higher places in the league, it is a safe bet that those opportunities of which he speaks will become more abundant.
Editor's note: Bob Wallace, executive vice president and general counsel for the St. Louis Rams, was named one of the Most Influential Minority Business Leaders in the March 4, 2005 issue of the St. Louis Business Journal.
-03-06-2005 #2gap Guest
Re: Rams' Executive Among Leading Minorities in Sports and Business
While it is great that Mr Wallace has made great strides in the NFL, I am TIRED of reading these stories about "minorities" when they are really saying "african americans". And that grates on me.
I personally believe racism would go away faster if the "minorities" would quit rubbing everyone's noses in the PAST.
Want proof this is not about minorities? 1979
Yep, that is the year that the RAMS became owned by a "minority" (I Know a LOT of you don't think it was an accident). Yes sirrie. Back then, and even to some today, women are minorities. Even if they are white women. So why are we reading stories about the "first" minority owned team? IMPO, it is because the racist with darker skin color want to rub everyone's nose in the "fact" that it took this long.
Just let go of the racism angle, and it will eventually disappear. But if it disappeared, racist like Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton wouldn't be able to make a living off of it.