Lydia Zakhari – The Trust (Powered by the NFLPA)
- Written by: Jason Pafundi
- Produced by: Victor Martins
- Est. reading time: 5 mins
Committed to helping NFL players win in their next chapter, The Trust (Powered by the NFLPA) supports former players when the glories of Sunday afternoon become post-career memories, and new legacies off the field must be created.
The Trust offers an extensive array of services and resources to former players through its three pillars: personal and business development, health and wellness resources, and community and connection opportunities.
Most important, says General Counsel Lydia Zakhari, The Trust offers more than 6,000 members a sense of community.
“By working in robust collaboration with seasoned partners and business entities experienced in serving professional athletes, The Trust offers an ecosystem to support former NFL players live a life by design,” she says.
Helping with what’s next
Created by the NFL Players Association in 2013, The Trust is an earned benefit that is available to any former player who played a minimum of two accredited NFL seasons.
In conjunction with the negotiation of a 2011 collective bargaining agreement, the players’ union (NFLPA) initiated a series of discussions with players, doctors, psychologists and experts in various fields to determine which services and programs were needed to assist players who are transitioning to life outside of the NFL. The goal was to attain a high quality of life after their professional football careers conclude.
After conducting several surveys and gathering data from active and former players, the NFLPA and subject matter experts established the framework for the offerings each qualified player now receives, helping him chart his trajectory during his playing career and after his retirement from the NFL.
“The Trust meets former players where they are in their post-career journeys,” Zakhari says.
Post-NFL career success has different, unique definitions for everyone, she says. However, there are characteristics that apply to every former player which can help yield a successful transition. The Trust provides a full network of support to former players to assist in various areas in life after the game.
A strong foundation
The Trust’s health and wellness pillar benefits provide participants with a baseline understanding of their overall health and equips former players to take ownership of their post-career wellness.
Partnerships with established medical centers across the country provide a multi-disciplinary team of experts who engage former players in a comprehensive, systems-wide medical assessment to support maintenance and improvement of all aspects of their health and well-being. Availability of select emergency medical and critical illness expense coverage, mental health resources, and nutrition and fitness benefits round out the health and wellness pillar.
Under The Trust’s personal and business development pillar, former players can access benefits to help meet their continuing education goals, identify career interests to successfully transition into sustainable employment and receive comprehensive financial education to prepare for post-career financial goals. The Trust’s services also include mentorship, entrepreneurial education and accelerator events.
One of the Trust’s main responsibilities is creating opportunities for collaboration and connection between former players while educating them on their earned benefits. The third pillar of community and connection opportunities creates an experience for former players wishing to recreate that locker room atmosphere while expanding upon new and established relationships.
A member of The Trust’s leadership, Zakhari’s duties include assisting in identifying and engaging on strategic opportunities, developing new partnerships and resources, and presenting new opportunities for the benefit of former players and the organization. Responsible for all legal affairs of The Trust, she also serves as legal advisor to the executive director, Trust leadership and staff, and serves as secretary of The Trust’s board of trustees.
Zakhari provides oversight and advice for legal matters including intellectual property and data privacy, risk management, strategic growth and partner relations. She also negotiates and counsels on all major transactions, and supervises compliance efforts with federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
“My role is unique and complex given the breadth of services The Trust provides,” she says.
Since joining The Trust in 2016, Zakhari has spearheaded the contractual transactions and negotiations of dozens of new and existing partnerships, as well as procured and executed hundreds of ancillary agreements.
Investing in the success of former players’ post-NFL careers takes a team of committed individuals—internally and externally—Zakhari says. She works with the Trust’s business partners and advisors, who are committed to serving former players and supporting the goals of the organization.
Nurturing her relationship with The Trust’s outside counsel, partners and advisors is of great importance to Zakhari. The breadth and complexity of the legal work, combined with frequent collaboration with partners and external stakeholders who bring sophistication and diversity of thought, is very fulfilling, she adds.
The Trust will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in the fall of 2023. Reflecting on the achievements of The Trust over the last decade, Zakhari says she’s proud of what the organization has accomplished and is excited about its growth and continued impact on former players in the future.
Her legal playbook and paving a path
Zakhari has always had a passion for the law and helping lead organizations to reach their full potential. She earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in justice, law and society from American University’s School of Public Affairs. She earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Texas Law School in Austin.
Her legal career started at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and included an externship in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Her private practice experience also includes time at Seattle-based firms Gordon Thomas Honeywell and Carney Badley Spellman.
Zakhari also understands and reveres the importance of paying it forward. As a mentor and community advocate, she commits time to charitable endeavors and helps empower women, young students and professionals to achieve their goals.
She sits on the board of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Sports Business and Leadership Association, a nonprofit organization for professionals working in sports. Its charitable goal is to provide children with the resources necessary to engage in unique sports experiences. The organization hopes to change children’s lives by providing these opportunities and motivating them to reach for higher goals, she says.
Zakhari is also a member of the Sports Lawyers Association, the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Women’s General Counsel Network. Her recent invitation and membership in Chief—a private membership network focused on connecting and supporting women executive leaders—further solidified her admiration of her peers and commitment “to contributing to the ecosystem of women in power.”
“Giving back is important to me because of the opportunities I’ve had,” she says. “Resilience and an unrelenting determination to push forward beyond challenge, failure and uncertainty has allowed me to harness the stamina it takes to succeed. It is fulfilling to help empower others to channel their experience into one of potential and fulfillment.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2023 Edition here.
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