Annual Sports Law Colloquium examines social justice movements in the sports world

On March 30, the NYU Law Sports Law Association presented its seventh annual Sports Law Colloquium, which this year focused largely on the intersection of sports and social justice movements such as #metoo and protests by athletes.

The opening panel, on women in sports, started with a discussion of pay disparities between male and female athletes. Moderator Cameron Myler, clinical assistant professor at NYU’s Tisch Institute for Global Sports, asked panelists how that dynamic could be changed.

Winston & Strawn partner Eva Cole, cochair of her firm's antitrust group, pointed to the new collective bargaining agreement that the US Women’s National Team secured last year after filing a complaint against US Soccer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “I think litigation in the right space can really move the ball forward,” she said. Cole also noted that female tennis players, starting with Billie Jean King, have successfully pushed to reduce the gender pay inequality in professional tennis. “I think you need advocacy and you also need transparency,” she said.

“I think it would impact a lot of this discussion if we got more women to own sports franchises,” said Pamela Wheeler, former executive director of the WNBA Players Association and a lecturer in Columbia University Sports Management Graduate Program. She added: “We need to have more women who are sitting at the table making the decisions.”

Also on the panel were Manly, Stewart & Finaldi partner John Manly and ESPN news editor Jennifer Overman. Manly, who is representing some 150 women in sexual abuse claims involving former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, discussed some of the broad aspects of the case. (Nassar was convicted of criminal sexual misconduct earlier this year.) “Gymnastics in my view has a systemic problem in its culture which accepts abuse,” Manly argued, laying the blame on “an adversarial coaching system that USA Gymnastics has adopted.”

The keynote address by Jeffrey Kessler, coexecutive chair of Winston & Strawn and cochair of the firm’s antitrust and sports law practices, examined the role of the sports lawyer in pursuing social justice for athletes. Kessler noted that he was inspired to become a lawyer by, among other things, the lawsuit brought by baseball player Curt Flood challenging the reserve clause tying him to the team that first signed him. The example of a black player taking on Major League Baseball during the Civil Rights movement “had real resonance,” Kessler recalled.

Other panels examined legal issues involved in the “Take a Knee” movement that began with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police violence, and the rapid growth of eSports, a new sports market based on competitive videogaming.

Posted April 25, 2018