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Billionaire Robert F. Smith Could Become the First Black NFL Owner in the Sport’s 101-Year History

He made history by being the first black person that I know of that paid off $34 million in student loans for nearly 400 students who graduated spring 2019 from Morehouse College. Now billionaire Robert F. Smith is possibly making history again.

The Bleacher Report says that the Denver’s Broncos could be for sale in the offseason of the NFL. Smith has expressed a serious interest to purchase the Denver Broncos. The Broncos are worth around 3.75 billion dollars as some reports indicate.

The Denver Broncos are owned by the Patrick D. Bowden Trust.” Pat Bowlen was a lawyer and businessman that died in 2019 owning the Denver Broncos. Pat Bowlen had placed his ownership interest in a trust for the benefit of his seven children and his brother John.

A trust is a contractual agreement where the owner of things like a football team, a house, a car, etc. puts these items in a pot to be held and managed by a third party for the benefit of designated people chosen by the owner. The third party is called the trustee and the designated people chosen by the owner are called the beneficiaries.

Most people create trusts to avoid the necessity of court proceedings like probate and family disputes as to what the true wishes of the family members that created the trust were when they passed away. Trusts are a great tool to preserve family wealth and perpetuate generational wealth and trusts are not just for the rich.

Despite detailed documentation of last wishes in a trust document, challenges sometimes still occur. When Pat D. Bowlen updated his trust and will documents in 2009, naming team official Joe Ellis, team lawyer Rich Slivka and another attorney, Mary Kelly as trustees, some of the family claimed that Pat Bowlen didn’t have the mental capacity to sign the documents.

Specially Pat’s brother Bill “filed a lawsuit in 2018 challenging the trustees authority, contending they were mired in conflicts of interest and had failed to act in Pat Bowlen’s best interest. That lawsuit was dismissed shortly after Pat Bowlen’s death in 2019.” Bill had been a prior owner with Pat of the team but Pat had bought him out prior to death.

Then, two of Pat’s daughters, Beth Bowlen Wallace and Amie Klemmer filed a similar lawsuit in 2019 “seeking to invalidate their father’s trust, alleging he did not have the capacity to sign trust documents in 2009.” Although it does look like Pat may have suffered some Alzheimer’s symptoms at the time of signing the documents, it doesn’t seem as if his cognitive ability to make decisions was completely gone. The judge in this last suit dismissed the daughters claims, opining that the update to Pat’s will and trust in 2009 was “valid and enforceable” and reflected “Patrick D. Bowlen’s intent and will.”

Pat’s brother Bill believe’s that it was not Pat’s wishes for the team to be sold and that “Pat would have been very upset, very upset. …his brother wanted the team to remain in control of his family.”

Pat Bowlen’s children and brother John are the beneficiaries of this trust. The trustees have a relationship of trust with the beneficiaries and if the trust allows for the sale based on beneficiary agreement, the trustees have no other choice but to sale the team pursuant to the trust terms. According to the terms of the trust, if the Broncos are to be sold, the team has to be sold by auction to the highest bidder and the beneficiaries have to honor the sale to whoever makes the highest bid.

If Robert F. Smith successfully bids for the Broncos, the sale still needs approval from 24 of the 32 NFL owners. And if this bid and approval occurs, Robert F. Smith would be the first black person to own an NFL team in the 101-year history of football sport.

Robert F. Smith is worth more than $6 billion. He worked in investments at Goldman Sachs and then founded Vista Equity Partners, which is a U.S.-based investment firm located in Austin, Chicago, New York City, Oakland and San Francisco. Robert F. Smith is a major donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Chairman of Carnegie Hall, and a board member of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and a Trustee of the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco.




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