Law school course focuses on women in sport

Part of the LL.M. at the University of Miami School of Law. In Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law, the course covers everything from the intricacies of contract negotiations to the landmark Title IX law that opened doors for women and girls in athletics.

From the United States women’s soccer team’s decades-long fight for equal pay to player activism and a mock contract negotiation with the WNBA, talks and drills compelled Alanna Sadler and his 14 classmates from the University of Miami Law School to problem solve and think critically.

“The mock contract negotiations were the hardest,” said Sadler, a sophomore law student from Buffalo, New York. “We had to delve into free agency, the salary cap and the structure of a collective bargaining agreement. We had heard so much about these different elements, so it was an interesting experience to finally go through them.

The experience Saddler is so enamored with was part of the Women in Professional Sports: A Legal, Social, and Business Analysis course. Part of the law school LL.M. in Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law, the week-long course not only allows students to explore the formation of the first and oldest sports union for professional female athletes, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) , it also examines Title IX of the landmark Gender Equality Act and how its enactment opened doors for women and girls in education programs, including athletics.

And through labor laws and regulations, the class explores the power of bargaining and how professional female athletes have continued to advance in areas such as sports employment, social advocacy and community initiatives.

“You’ll find that law schools usually offer a sports law course or maybe a NCAA course or a varsity athletics course. And there may be a session that focuses on Title IX or some of the issues related to that law,” said Greg Levy, director of the Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law (EASL) program. “But I don’t know of any other law school that has a course entirely focused on women in sport.”

Levy got the idea for the course two years ago when he and EASL program management formed a women in sport initiative and realized that many law school students, especially women , had such a hard time breaking into the field of sports law that they lost interest and decided to pursue other areas of the legal profession.

“By the time they reached their third year, they ended up going in a different direction,” said Levy, who is also associate dean for academic and student services and strategic initiatives. “We received their feedback and learned that part of the reason they lost interest was the lack of opportunities and the lack of female role models, and there was also the belief that the sports industry was always a boys-only club.”

That’s when Levy and Terri Jackson, executive director of the WNBPA) formed a collaboration to create a course on women in professional sports. Jackson had long had a vision of partnering with a law school and providing experiential learning opportunities with the WNBPA.

“Our approach to educating these students is to take proactive steps to provide education, mentorship opportunities and access to attorneys who can help them pursue a career in sports law, whether immediately after graduation. their degree or later,” Levy said.

These mentorship opportunities began on the first day of the inaugural course held in late September, when Jackson served as the lead instructor, sharing her insights into the legal and business landscape of professional women’s sports and what it’s like to advocate. athletes.

“We started with football because it’s important that we recognize our sisters’ victories in other sports,” Jackson said. In that capacity, she arranged for Becca Roux, executive director of the United States Women’s National Team Players Association, to host a Zoom session on what it was like to help negotiate the first collective agreement of its kind that created pay equity in sport. .

Hal Biagas, former assistant general counsel for the National Basketball Players Association, spoke about the history of the WNBA and shared his thoughts on the direction of league-union relations. David Foster, current NBPA Deputy General Counsel, led a discussion with Joe Lemire, Senior Writer at SportTechie, and Dave Anderson, CEO of BreakAway Data. Then the students engaged in a heated debate about the ethics of collecting biometric and performance data through wearable technology.

But the contract negotiation simulation was the highlight of the course. During the session, the students split into pairs, with half acting as an agent representing a WNBA player and the other half as the front office of a team. The simulation was based on the league’s next free agency period, and all negotiations happened simultaneously, requiring the students to react to the changes in real time. “Although hypothetical and for educational purposes only, it was exciting to see the students act as representatives as they attempted to give us a glimpse of what the next period of free agency might look like,” Jackson said.

The Georgetown University law graduate – who during her tenure as WNBPA executive director negotiated higher salaries, increased maternity benefits for female players and protested fines imposed on WNBA athletes who wore unauthorized T-shirts in support of Black Lives Matter – said law students entering the field of sports law face several challenges.

“In everything we do, we emphasize how women are viewed culturally and how they are valued and how we need to make sure they are better valued in the workplace,” she explained. “When it comes to negotiating a new collective agreement in [the WNBA’s] example or taking legal action for equal pay in the case of football, we are constantly faced with these challenges. It’s hard to talk about women’s sport and progress without acknowledging that the investment in our sports hasn’t been the same.

Students entering the field can help change that, which is why the Women in Professional Sports class will be a mainstay of the EASL program, Levy noted.

But it is wrong to view sports law as a limited area within the legal profession, he pointed out. “We groom lawyers who know business lawyers well, first and foremost,” Levy said. “But sports law is not an isolated field. It is made up of many different substantive areas of law – from employment law, which is obviously an important part of our course, to antitrust, intellectual property, copyright, trademark law and tax. We are preparing students for all of this,” he added. “We have built a solid base. And as we begin to erect the walls of our home and then install the furniture, we’ve differentiated ourselves because we teach students something about the business of the industry from leading practitioners.

Sadler said the program was tailor-made for her. She started dancing at the age of 3, eventually becoming proficient in styles ranging from ballet and ballroom to salsa and swing. Throughout the process, she was always fascinated by how the athletic movements were part of the dance.

The longtime Buffalo Bills fan is currently a legal intern for South Florida professional football team Inter Miami. “To take an intensive week-long course where we were made aware of the legal aspects that affect women in sport could not have been more valuable,” she said. “It’s an area of ​​law that I will be keeping an eye on.”

The collaboration between the EASL program and the WNBPA will continue, with top-performing students in the class having the opportunity to join a WNBPA internship in the spring alongside Jackson and his colleagues.

“My hope,” Jackson said, “is to create a clinic housed in a law school and with the WNBPA as its primary client. This course is the way to achieve this goal.

Nancy I. Romero