A call for more balance


I have gotten used to reading Bulletin articles which don’t comport with my political view of the world, but Elaine McArdle’s “Pay for Play” may have set a new standard for never mentioning the other side on any facet of the article’s discussion.

I have a little experience with college sports, even discounting my own participation over 50 years ago. My son and daughter had outstanding college golf careers at academically demanding nonscholarship (meaning I paid) Division I institutions. Both managed to love both the golf and the overall experience. Both have terrific spouses and children, and one is now a practicing physician (with an honors degree from a top medical school) and the other has an M.B.A. and runs her own successful business. As a result, I am a little bemused by the former Brown running back (who managed to graduate from Harvard Law School) and the former NFL player and former president of the NFL Players Association who is now attending the Business School. Despite their protestations, it doesn’t seem like either of them was prevented from getting more out of college than just football.

Since I have lived near Northwestern for almost 50 years, had basketball season tickets at one time, and have a relationship with its men’s and women’s golf programs, I have followed the unionization story quite closely. Even the Chicago newspapers have presented both sides of the issue. The initiator of the process, quarterback Kain Colter (with whom many would gladly have traded places to receive a virtually free education at Northwestern), was quoted as saying he was prevented from pursuing his dream of becoming a surgeon and also, after the unionization vote was completed, as saying that he was now free to pursue his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL. Maybe he wants what all of us strive for but most of us know is beyond our reach—to “have it all.” The bottom line is that no one is forced to play a college sport—life is full of choices.

I long ago resigned myself to the fact that we conservatives are probably a minority of Harvard Law School alumni, but some of us loved and even continue to love the school and would appreciate a little more balance.

A voice for athletes’ rights

Pay for Play Backboard

Thank you for your Summer 2014 cover feature titled “Pay for Play.” Justice in college sports and recognition of players’ rights in our legal system are long overdue, so the work being undertaken at HLS is important. The current regime in college sports takes value generated by unrepresented (often African-American) young men and diverts it to middle-aged (usually European-American) coaches and athletic administrators. Most of these athletes will never play sports in the NFL or NBA, so their college years may well constitute the period that should have been the highest-earning years of their lives.

In addition to the worthwhile work of your faculty and student body, your alumni have also contributed to the development of athlete rights. In 2006, my co-author and I published the first extensive analysis of whether college athletes should have the right to organize as employees under the National Labor Relations Act. (See Robert A. McCormick and Amy Christian McCormick, “The Myth of the Student-Athlete: The College Athlete as Employee,” 81 Washington Law Review, 71-157, 2006.) Our article served as the template for the position Northwestern University football players would later take when they sought union representation to gain a voice in their working conditions.

The NLRB’s regional director’s carefully reasoned decision in that case is currently under appeal, and by the time the next issue of the Harvard Law Bulletin is published, the NLRB may have issued a decision. Regardless of the outcome, concerns about athlete rights will not go away. As you rightly detailed in “Pay for Play,” universities and colleges are enjoying incredible revenues from the labor of athletes who perform arduous, dangerous work; who often live in poverty; and who all too often do not receive real educations in return for their efforts.

Part of a bigger picture

I was absolutely delighted to see the marvelous profile of Bishop [’69] and Marilyn [’72] Holifield [“Siblings in the Struggle”] in the Summer 2014 Harvard Law Bulletin. I am blessed to know them both. I would also like to point out that Bishop Holifield along with Reginald Gilliam [’68] was not only a founder of HLS BALSA, but was instrumental in getting Derrick Bell to come teach at Harvard Law School in the fall of 1969.

As more fully presented in my blog, Bell notes in a resignation letter to the dean of USC Law Center on June 2, 1969: “My decision to leave reflects a number of considerations. Principal among them is the opportunity to work with the more than 100 black law students who will be enrolled next year at Harvard. The challenge of working with these students became irresistible when their leaders wrote and called urging that I come.”

Remembering John Mansfield: Behind a soft-spoken presence, ‘formidable integrity and a ferocious mind’

John H. Mansfield ’56

Credit: Leah Fasten John H. Mansfield ’56

Your “In Memoriam” for Professor John Mansfield (Summer 2014) brought back fond memories, with a certain edge. In 1968-’69, having survived his Torts course, I was Professor Mansfield’s 2L research assistant, courtesy of the then Student Aid program. Mostly I worked on immigration-law issues he formulated. I recall nothing about those, though they may have contributed to his interest in the intersections of evidence, religion and speech. However, the lessons he offered indirectly as we sat in his cluttered office remain clear. Characteristically, they came as questions. Some samples:

  • “Would you rather deal with a smart corrupt party than an honest dumb one?”
  • “Is it the statute, the regulation, the regulator or record-keeping that really sets the bounds?”
  • “Did we start with a presumption for admission to this country? What’s left of that?”

He was patrician in bearing, and his lanky and soft-spoken presence masked formidable integrity and a ferocious mind. During our sessions I came to think of him as Lord Mansfield, although I wouldn’t have dared to voice that impression. We never spoke after I left Cambridge, but I’ve thought of him often. He was an extraordinarily nice, kind and decent man.

Remembering John Mansfield: ‘determined to try to see things clearly and speak honestly’

I was grieved to hear of John Mansfield’s death. I was his research assistant during law school, and despite our many disagreements in the 1990s (during the CLS [Critical Legal Studies] wars), we climbed many hills together over the years.

He was a “conservative” in the HLS conflicts, but in no other way: He was [Professor] Mark Howe’s best friend at the law school and, like Mark, spent time in the South doing civil rights litigation; he also represented American soldiers in Vietnam accused of desertion and insubordination; and he was a liberal reformer in the Catholic Church. He had a remarkably original and penetrating intellect, acute perception into psychology, and a stubbornly resolute determination to try to see things clearly and speak honestly—he was surely the least instrumental person I’ve ever known.

Editor’s note: A piece by Robert Gordon will appear in the Harvard Law Review in December as part of a tribute to John Mansfield.

A new acquaintance

The fine Harvard Divinity Bulletin; Education School magazine, Ed.; and Harvard Magazine all come to me regularly. But I’d had no acquaintance with the Harvard Law Bulletin until I found your summer ’14 edition during a visit with my daughter [Audrey Grossman ’95] last week. I read it nearly cover to cover with great interest; congratulations to the editors and contributors.

Perhaps the most enlightening, but disturbing, outcome of this reading is the realization of just how complex, too-often-misunderstood, and perhaps ultimately unsolvable, are the social, political, and economic issues confronting us. It makes it all the more maddening now to be subjected to the simplistic and devious barrage of news and campaign rhetoric thrown at us and to realize how effective that is at influencing voters.

Please keep up the good work; perhaps your exposition of matters, and efforts from your readers with some influence, can yet save the day.

The Bulletin wins gold!

Winter2014 Cover

This spring, the Harvard Law Bulletin won the 2014 Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s Gold Award for special constituency magazines. The judges found “the combination of design, story selection, illustrations, departments, writing and editing exemplary.”