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Friday, September 25, 2015
John Molori column in Patriots Football Weekly: "McCann brings common sense to emotional NFL issues"

My sincere thanks to John Molori of Patriots Football Weekly for writing a wonderful column titled "McCann Brings Common Sense to Emotional NFL Issues" in the latest issue (Sept. 20, 2015) of the magazine. I am posting the column with permission:

By John Molori

McCann brings common sense to emotional NFL issues

     Sports Illustrated legal analyst and writer Michael McCann is a wanted man. With the NFL awash in labor and legal issues on a seemingly daily basis, the founding Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law has been beset by media inquiries.

     Give McCann’s mobile phone a jingle and you might hear a message saying that he is taking a break from media requests. When you try to leave a message, his mailbox is full. Why, you ask? It’s simple. McCann’s writing, teaching, analysis, and commentary has provided a sane and sublime look at the NFL’s off-field woes, eschewing emotional hyperbole and focusing on common sense and facts.

     The 39-year old McCann was ahead of the curve on the seemingly eternal Deflategate issue, stating early on that the NFL did not have enough evidence against Tom Brady to uphold his 4-game suspension. In fact, McCann has devoted an entire class to Deflategate at UNH.

     When ESPN’s expansive Spygate revelations came to light on September 8, many reacted with rage and doubt. Was ESPN using the story as payback for the backlash they took for their shoddy Deflategate reporting? Did they coordinate the story’s release to negatively affect the Patriots’ opening night festivities? Typically, McCann embraces no such conspiracy theories.

     He relates, “I’m not sure we can say that anything was coordinated. My take is that there was a lot of time spent on that story, a lot of work. I think ESPN just wanted to get it out before anyone else did.”

     Conventional wisdom, or should I say, New England conventional wisdom, says that Commissioner Roger Goodell’s harsh punishment against the Patriots and Brady for Deflategate was a “make up call” for his perceived slap on the wrist for Spygate in 2007. 

     Ever the realist, McCann opines, “I’m not sure it was a makeup call. Certainly, there are other owners who feel some frustration toward the Patriots. It could be plausible that they wanted Goodell to treat the Patriots more harshly this time. It gives a narrative to the story, but there is not a lot of evidence that this happened.”

     Evidence. There’s that word again. It is the key reason why the NFL’s reactions based on Ted Wells’ infamous Deflategate report were ultimately flawed. McCann saw through the report, but still has some sympathy for Wells, who was thrust into a difficult situation.  “The NFL made a big mistake describing the report as independent,” says McCann, who has covered the Aaron Hernandez murder case, Boston Marathon bombings, and Penn State and Lance Armstrong scandals, among other stories.

     “It was not independent. This whole thing really did a disservice to Ted Wells. It does absolutely nothing for Wells in his career. He may have made a lot of money from the league, but I am not sure he would ever want to work for the NFL in the future.”

     Putting legalities, rules, and points of law aside, the Deflategate issue hit at the heart of a powerful NFL relationship – the one between Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “Robert Kraft really feels like his franchise has been treated poorly and has suffered reputational harm,” says McCann.

     “These stories are damaging to a franchise. I do think that Kraft did not fight the Commissioner’s punishment hoping that Brady would get a reduction in his suspension. Goodell’s contract is up in 2019, and most likely, Robert Kraft will still be an active owner then. It would not surprise me if the NFL possibly replaces Goodell at that time.”

     McCann’s legal and academic resume is impressive. A graduate of Harvard Law School, the University of Virginia School of Law and Georgetown University, he taught the first-ever sports law analytics class at Yale Law School. He also co-founded the Project on Law & Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School and is the Distinguished Visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law.

     Beyond the credentials, McCann’s greatest strength is his ability to apply his vast knowledge beyond the ivy-covered walls of academia to the current player conduct crisis in the NFL.

     “The crisis is about disciplinary problems.” asserts the Andover, MA native and resident. “From the New Orleans Saints’ bounty issue, to Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Tom Brady. It makes sense for the NFL to reform.”

     Part of this reform could include a proposed change in Roger Goodell’s areas of purview. Goodell, himself, says that he would be open to such a change. Says McCann, “The Commissioner is not an attorney and this affects how he views issues of process and fairness. Yes, he is empowered by the owners, but the Players’ Association gave him the power with personal conduct issues.

     “In the NBA, if a player is suspended for more than 12 games, he has the right to have his case heard by an independent arbitrator. If NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had the authority that Goodell has, I think the results would be different because he has a legal background.”

     Despite the tidal wave of criticism. Goodell continues to ride the crest of NFL prosperity, i.e. - he continues to make wads of money for NFL owners. McCann explains, “Credit and blame flow upward. That crisis that we discussed does not affect the NFL’s bottom line.

     “These off-field disciplinary issues are negative, but in a kind of perverse way, they have actually added to the league’s popularity. Think of all the people who were not interested in the NFL, but have become interested recently because of these stories.”

     Speaking of stories, McCann has filed more than 400 of them for Sports Illustrated and He has been featured on numerous multi-media outlets, most recently Fox Sports 1, Monday Night Football, and MSNBC.

     So, what draws this journalistic lawyer and lawyerly journalist to a subject? “I like stories that are teachable and that comport to the classroom,” he relates. “Sports law involves some very serious areas of law.”

    There are many who believe that the legal and moral issues in the NFL merely reflect those of society as a whole. McCann, who served as counsel to college football star Maurice Clarett in his NFL eligibility lawsuit, gives his view.

     “I think it is fair to say that pro football mirrors society in some aspects. Tom Brady’s case was about management-union relations, but in life, it is not usually about a worker making $20 million a year. Certainly, the courts treat sports differently. You can fight in a game or on the field and get away with it. If you did that on the street, you would be tried in court.”

      Media attention aside, McCann’s first love is education. He has won the Professor the Year Award for outstanding teaching several times and written more than 20 law review articles, including placements in the Yale Law Journal and Boston College Law Review. He has also presented at MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conferences since 2009.

     In 2011, the Society for Social Psychology & Personality awarded McCann its Media Prize for excellence in explaining legal topics to a general audience. While McCann is making a name for himself as a much sought-after media personality, he is first and foremost a teacher, and his Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at UNH Law is his most important stage.

     He explains, “The program started a few years ago when I was a visiting professor at UNH Law School. They offered me a tenured position and a chance to direct the program. It is a great program that helps students build the necessary skills to get into the sports industry.

     “People say there are no jobs in sports, but that is not true. Colleges are hiring more lawyers than ever. It is a growth industry. You may not become the attorney for the Patriots or Red Sox right when you graduate, but in our program, you will take the courses that will help you get there in the future. Recent sports stories have also included issues of labor law, evidence, and even murder. As a professor, I can use these stories to inform students about relevant areas of the law.”

John Molori is an author and columnist for numerous publications. Like him on Facebook at John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. Email


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