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Lawyer followed his heart to second career and never looked back
by Mary Denny
Paul Batista '73 is a very happy man. At an age when many of his contemporaries are beginning to retire, he is not even close to considering it. "I plan to do this as long as my mind, body, and spirit will allow," he says.
"This" is being a professor in the Sport Management Division in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University in College Station. It is a position this fifth-generation Caldwell, Texas, native—widely known for his warmth, wit, and wisdom—arrived at after several decades of practicing law in his hometown. Paul earned his J.D. from the Baylor University Law School in 1976.
While Paul enjoyed practicing law, he couldn't shake the notion that there had to be something that would be more appealing and rewarding.
"In essence, what lawyers do is handle clients' problems," he explains. "I just didn't want to spend the rest of my life handling other people's problems and feeling responsible for the outcomes, which many times were out of my control."
After making a list of things he liked and found invigorating, Paul realized "law, sports, and being on college campuses, where there is non-stop enthusiasm and the desire for learning, were at the top." In 1991, he decided to create a sport law class that he could teach at nearby Texas A&M. Fortuitously, the university had just started its Sport Management program so the timing was perfect for a gradual career shift.
He began as an adjunct in 1991 teaching one course in the fall semester. "When I would leave my office [in Caldwell] and make the 30-minute drive, then teach my class, it was like a mental vacation," he says. Soon he was teaching fall and spring semesters. When the opportunity arose to become a full-time professor, Paul didn't hesitate. He opted not to run for reelection as County Judge of Burleson County, closed his law practice, sold his title company, and moved wholeheartedly into academia where he has been for the last 18 years.
A sports lover since early childhood, Paul became interested in sport law when a friend who was an NFL player asked him for advice when renegotiating his contract. That led to Paul's certification as a contract adviser with the NFL Players Association, and he represented a few players. "This was fortunate because it gave me credibility when it came time to begin teaching at A&M."
However, Paul points out, sport law is "so much more than negotiating player contracts." While contracts are a small component, "in class we deal with NCAA compliance, Constitutional issues, intellectual property, labor law, discrimination, negligence/injuries, international sporting disputes, and many other subjects." Currently, Paul's research focus is on liability issues in school settings, with a primary emphasis on First Amendment religion and free speech issues in schools, a topic that is "very timely and extremely interesting to me, particularly with the proliferation of social media."
As a tenured professor and scholar, Paul has established an impressive career. Since 2000, he has authored 34 research publications and book chapters and delivered more than 85 research presentations at conferences, law schools, and continuing education legal seminars around the world. Among his many honors, in 2015 he received the Texas A&M George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation Excellence Award for Faculty in International Teaching. He is also a recipient of the Betty van der Smissen Leadership Award, the highest award presented by the Sport and Recreation Law Association. In 2016, Texas A&M President Michael Young appointed him the Faculty Athletics Representative charged with monitoring the A&M Athletics Department, and serving as representative to the SEC and the NCAA.
At home in College Station, Paul and wife Cathey have two grown daughters who are fourth-generation Baylor students—Savannah, a 2016 graduate, and Alana, a sophomore. Cathey helps run a small business they own, and Paul just finished a nine-year term on the board of the regional hospital. He also serves on a bank board and several other community and business boards.
In his down time, Paul communicates regularly with his former Tiger baseball teammates via their email group, plays golf "at every opportunity," and enjoys travel, another pursuit he has deftly woven into his teaching career. He developed and leads summer study abroad programs to Europe where students study sport from an international perspective. The site visits on his programs have included numerous sport venues and headquarters—the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympics Committee, FC Bayern München, and the German Soccer Federation among them. To support these teaching activities, in 2013 he was awarded a Certificate of Advanced Studies in European Sports Law and Policy from the Faculty of Law at the University of Leuven, Belgium. His students cheered on the U.S women's soccer team during the semi-final match of the Women's World Cup in Germany in 2011.
Although he loves all sports, he admits, "I guess I'll never enjoy anything more than the love affair I have with baseball." Captivated by the intellectual and athletic aspects of the game, he says, "The cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and hitter still fascinates me."
You can contact Paul at pbatista [at] tamu.edu or visit his webpage.