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An Interview with Michael McCann


I practiced for about four years after law school, including litigating at two law firms and serving as a legal counsel in Congress. I enjoyed those experiences, and learned a great deal from them, but I’ve always had a passion for teaching and working with students, so that led me to transition over to a teaching position in law. Harvard was a phenomenal place to study and there I met some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.

Social media, to me, is an evolution in how we share information and comment on news. I think some traditional journalists have adeptly incorporated social media into their work, whereas others have not. Journalists need to be flexible in their work so that they can adjust as technology and culture changes their profession. I think the same is true for any profession. If we become too resistant to adaptation in our line of work—whatever kind of work that may be, journalism, teaching etc.—we’ll be replaced by those who are adaptive.

Disabilities law is an area of law that is largely undeveloped in sports, and I hope that changes. I wrote about Royce White, the NBA player with general anxiety disorder, and some of the legal and social issues he’s faced. I think disabilities law should also include mental health disabilities. Leagues and players associations, along with colleges, high schools and youth leagues, need to develop policies and procedures that ensure athletes with disabilities are fairly treated.

As a starting point, I think it makes a lot of sense for a commissioner to be an attorney. He or she needs to not only know the law – which many people can look up on Google or Wikipedia – but how to apply it fairly and justly. This is where legal training comes into play: we teach students how to apply the law. People sometimes find lawyers annoying because our training and profession make us process-driven. Attorneys tend to value a fair outcome over one that may not be publicly embraced. In some regards, Roger Goodell has had a lot of success as commissioner. Certainly the owners—the people he works for—seem to think highly of him. But on legal issues involving players, the track record is much less impressive, and that is mostly clearly seen in regards to the Ray Rice matter. I’m not sure if that reflects a lack of legal training for Goodell, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there is some  connection.

My instinct is NFL games aren’t fixed and that the bad call in the Cowboys-Lions game was about an error in judgment and unfamiliarity with other officials. But the Tim Donaghy officiating scandal in indicates that leagues need to be vigilant in ensuring that games are called fairly.

Most of my work time is spent on working with students at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, where I direct the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute and teach several courses. This upcoming semester I’ll be teaching the entire first year class sales law (Article II of the Uniform Commercial Code) and an upper-level amateur sports law course. So my typical day is focused on students and I also cover sports law issues that come up. Outside of work life, I spend time with my wife, who is incredibly supportive of my work and hectic work schedule, and I also enjoy running and working out at the gym. I also play tennis and basketball when the opportunity presents itself. I also watch movies and TV, with Homeland, The Americans, MadMen and The Walking Dead among my favorite shows that are currently on.

My preparation includes reading over every court document and speaking with individuals who have insights on the case. It will be interesting to see how the prosecution makes its case without a murder weapon or witness, but there remains a good amount of circumstantial evidence that is worrisome for Hernandez’s attorneys.

I grew up a Boston sports fan but now that I work in the industry and write about legal issues impacting teams and players, I’ve become much more of an observer and commentator of leagues (and other levels of sports, including college sports) than a fan. The one exception I make to that would be for UNH athletics – go Wildcats!

You never know. I’m sure in a universe that is infinitely large there must be some other intelligent life, somewhere. I’m not sure when we’ll encounter them but if we do, it wouldn’t surprise me if they have sports and even their own set of sports law issues!

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Michelle has been a sports writer and analyst for many years. Now, as host of Neutral Court, sponsored by In The Zone, Michelle brings a new sports topic to the debate floor with each episode.
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