Summit on College Athletes' Rights Hosted by Drexel Sport Management
by Alex McKechnie
News Officer, Office of University Communications
This past fall, a strike by 30 black football players at the University of Missouri shined a national spotlight on racial tensions on that campus, illustrating the challenges that college athletes face – and the power they have to enact change – in the lucrative college sport entertainment industry.
In an effort to examine more closely the rights of college athletes and whether those rights are protected, Drexel University’s Department of Sport Management in the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management hosted "College Athletes’ Rights & Empowerment (CARE) Conference: Visioning A New Paradigm of College Sport” March 24 – 26 at the National Constitution Center and Drexel University.
The conference, which coincided with NCAA March Madness, brought together some of the biggest names and leading thinkers on this topic to encourage dialogue that places the rights of college athletes at the center of policy and decision-making, develops frameworks to ensure that those rights are protected and explores ways to empower college athletes to assert their rights.
The conference was designed to bring scholars, journalists, practitioners and athletes together for the purpose of envisioning a new model of college sport for the 21st century that centers on the health, well-being and welfare of college athletes and provides a democratic avenue for athletes to share in the decision-making that shapes the rules governing their lives.
Speakers included Taylor Branch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for his landmark narrative history of the civil rights era; Los Angeles Rams player and College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) co-founder Kain Colter; sociologist Harry Edwards, PhD, an architect of the revolt of the black athlete in the 1960s; founder and president of the National College Players Association (NCPA) Ramogi Huma; Ed O’Bannon, retired pro basketball player and lead plaintiff in the antitrust class action lawsuit O’Bannon v. NCAA; legendary sports marketing executive Sonny Vacarro; The New York Times’ Ben Strauss and Joe Nocera; and Washington Post columnist and panelist on ESPN’s Around the Horn Kevin Blackistone.
The conference was organized by Ellen J. Staurowsky, EdD, a professor in Drexel’s Department of Sport Management, who is internationally recognized as an expert on social justice issues in sport.
“While conversations about college sport are often system-focused, this is about the rights of college athletes,” said Staurowsky. “This also marks the first time that this group of leading experts has all shared a stage together. It is an exciting and important opportunity to envision a new paradigm for shaping the terms and conditions under which college athletes compete and live their lives.”
The conference began the evening of Thursday, March 24, the evening before the NCAA Division I men’s basketball regionals, at the National Constitution Center, a national stage for dialogue about constitutional rights. The program included keynote addresses by the New York Times’ Joe Nocera, who spoke about the new book he co-authored, “Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA”; and Harry Edwards, PhD, on college athletes’ rights as civil rights. The evening included a panel on college athletes’ rights for the 21st century with Taylor Branch, Ramogi Huma, Kain Colter, Ed O’Bannon and Billy Hawkins, moderated by ESPN’s Kevin Blackistone.
The second day of the conference took place at Drexel’s Gerri C. LeBow Hall. It included an address by Sonny Vaccaro, the former marketing executive for Nike, Adidas and Reebok; and an interactive dialogue led by Jeff Prudhomme, vice president and fellow of the Interactivity Foundation; as well as panel discussions on challenging power dynamics, college athlete activism, rethinking player representation models and helping college athletes access their own voices.
The final day of the conference also took place at Gerri C. LeBow Hall. A debate on whether or not the NCAA should be afforded an antitrust exemption featured Marc Edelman (law professor, City University of NY and sport business writer, Forbes.com); Donna Lopiano (Sport Management Resources), Joel Maxcy (Drexel Sport Economist) and Andrew Zimbalist (Smith College Sport Economist). The conference closed with a panel on college athletes, the NCAA and due process. Panelists included Matt Haverstick (Kleinbard LLC & plaintiff’s attorney in Corman v. NCAA); Richard Johnson (plaintiff’s attorney in Oliver v. NCAA), Steven Silver (McBreen & Kopko and co-founder, The Legal Blitz) and Ben Strauss (New York Times).