The law school’s First Annual Sports Law Symposium was held on Feb. 10 by the Sports and Entertainment Law Society to foster a dialogue about relevant issues in the Sports Law community. The event kicked off with commencement speaker, DeMaurice Smith, president of the National Football League (“NFL”) Players Association.
Smith addressed relevant issues in Sports Law, starting with Northwestern’s efforts toward Unionization, which he described as “a testament to [the students’] courage and [attempt] to fix what they think is broken in the system.”
Smith attributed the rise of sports unions in the past 40-50 years to the willingness of sports unions to coalesce and take risks, and such risks all had a significant impact on the strength of those unions.
A student raised the question of NFL hopeful Michael Sam’s recent coming out, asking whether the NFL Players Association reached out to him for support. Smith replied that they had reached out, and the Association mentors players when they are Juniors in college and manages them during this transition period.
Smith ended by discussing his organization’s educational initiatives — helping players to maximize their 401k’s, discussing workers compensation and providing lawyers to the teams, and teaching players about “handling your business as a businessman, and getting more out of football than football gets out of you.”
Following Smith’s remarks, the program continued with a discussion of the Washington Redskins name change, moderated by AUWCL Professor Jeremi Duru.
David Grosso, D.C. councilmember at-large, said he has pushed for a name change in spite of death threats.
“When someone is offended by a word, and it has a profound negative impact on a group, the English vocabulary is so broad that we can find another word to replace it,” said Grosso, who noted that “redskin” is a slur in many dictionaries and that there appears to be growing public support for a name change.
Grosso argued that using a slur in a team name could have profound impact on growth and development, and the confidence of a group of people. As a life-long fan of the team, he stated that he will always support them.
Jesse Witten, an attorney for Drinker Biddle & Reath, has talked to Native Americans who find the term disparaging, and noted there is survey evidence that supports the general perception that the term is disparaging. Witten noted the difficulty of collecting survey data on the topic, particularly finding ways to word the questions in an unbiased way.
Local media in the D.C.-area covered the event. Check out the WUSA article here:
Think Progress article here