Don Yee, who found himself front and center in one of the most contentious and controversial sports stories of recent vintage—the 20-month “Deflategate” saga that centered on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady—saw his role as a determined advocate.
In January 2015, Brady was accused of tampering with the inflation levels of the footballs he threw in that month’s AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts. Yee (Law ’87), Brady’s longtime sports agent, was a forceful defender of the Patriots superstar as the story unfolded, leaning on lessons he learned at the University of Virginia School of Law.
Whether issuing a written denouncement of the NFL’s investigation and subsequent four-game suspension of his star client, or repeatedly making the rounds to national media outlets to say the league had botched its case, Yee pushed back against the conventional wisdom that Brady was guilty in cut-and-dried fashion. He made it his mission to prove the NFL’s judgment got ahead of the facts.
“That’s just part of the job as an agent, fighting for your clients,” Yee says. “It wasn’t about me being the face of anything. At that point, you’re an attorney and an advocate and all of your training comes to bear on the subject. … Luckily I had been a litigator early in my career, so it wasn’t a difficult transition to make.”
Brady’s initial suspension was overturned and then reinstated; he sat out the first four games of the 2016 season before, ultimately, having the last laugh, leading the Patriots to their miraculous comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5.
Yee, 56, was born and raised on the West Coast, attended UCLA undergrad and arrived at the Law School in the mid-’80s. “UVA was actually the place that showed me how narrow my world was coming out of college and how much I had to learn,” he says. Yee has returned to the Law School in the past as a visiting professor.
Yee’s timing in scouting and recruiting Brady in early 2000 was impeccable. The centerpiece client of his practice, Brady is a five-time Super Bowl winner, helping a once-dysfunctional Patriots team build the foremost dynasty of its era.
Yee’s Los Angeles-based practice has represented many other headline players and coaches in the NFL, including current Patriots Julian Edelman and Jimmy Garoppolo; Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton; and former NFL head coaches Tom Cable (Oakland), Steve Mariucci (San Francisco) and Dick Jauron (Chicago, Buffalo).
“The thing about Don and Steve Dubin [his partner in the agency], it seems like they go after a certain type of player,’’ says former client Scott Fujita, who played 11 seasons at linebacker in the NFL and won a Super Bowl ring with the 2009 New Orleans Saints. “Their expectations of you as a player are very, very simple: Act like a pro and do your job. … I played with four different teams in my career, and no matter who was that team’s general manager … they always pulled me aside and told me how much they enjoyed working with Don Yee over the years.”
“If there’s anything I’ve been able to do,” Yee says, “it’s to choose my associations wisely.”