By Irvin Muchnick
A couple of months ago we told you about the shill-a-thon known as the “Santa Clara Symposium on Sports Law and Ethics.”
At this point scare quotes are appropriate — as is a bit of piling on in the wake of the announcement of the lineup of speakers at this year’s symposium, the sixth annual. It is vogue, but tired, to say that the Santa Clara University Law School’s Institute for Sports Law and Ethics (which appears to have no function aside from staging this lame event) doubled down on its pattern of royally sucking up to the “gold sponsor” San Francisco 49ers. So let us say, instead, that the symposium has opted for sycophancy squared.
Last September the keynote speaker was Paraag Marathe, president of the 49ers. In the world of sports law and ethics, it was the season of 24/7 public discussion of domestic violence everywhere except in Santa Clara. There, Marathe banned audience questions about domestic violence.
This year the symposium, boldly going where other forums dare not, booked Keith Bruce, CEO of the Super Bowl Host Committee, for the keynote address. I’ve asked, but not received an answer to, the question of whether this arrangement was consummated by Law Seminars International, a symposium “silver sponsor.” If silver sponsorship translates into a kickback on the fees paid to Law Seminars by Santa Clara for helping organize the symposium, then that practice would be known, in less Orwellian language, as a sterling breach of ethics.
I asked Nathan Ballard, the well-connected politico flack who is spokesman for the Super Bowl Host Committee, what Bruce’s speech will be about and what it has to do with sports law and ethics. To the credit of Ballard’s senior associate, Kathryn Glickman, she didn’t maintain that the speech is relevant because Bruce will be expounding on the implications for local zoning laws and traffic diversion plans of next February’s National Football League championship game.
Glickman said Bruce will offer “a broad overview of Super Bowl 50 planning to date. He will not specifically touch on sports law or ethics.”
The lunch speaker will be William Rhoden, a New York Times sports columnist. Rhoden and Times corporate spokeswoman Eileen Murphy did not respond to multiple queries regarding how much Rhoden is being paid and whether the appearance complies with newspaper policy.
Maybe I should ask the members of the “Santa Clara Institute on Sports Law and Ethics” board of directors what they’re thinking. Depending on who is writing the press release, there are either 32 or 25 of them. Also varying by day of the week is whether Donald Polden, the retired dean of the law school, is the institute’s executive director or its board chairman.