by Irvin Muchnick
We’ve had some fun this week – serious fun – doing a little drum roll for Travis Tygart’s speaking appearance at the fifth annual Santa Clara Sports Law Symposium. Here’s the full report of what wound up (mostly not) happening today.
As always, I begin by thanking the folks at the Santa Clara University Law School for letting me observe the conference.
Posing tough questions to Tygart – the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency head who formerly lawyered for USA Swimming – is part of my job. It is not guerrilla theater. To the extent that confronting Tygart might have abused Santa Clara’s hospitality, I didn’t want to push it. Today the logistics didn’t align. There will be other opportunities. Indeed, it is my belief that Congressional and executive branch investigators who are focusing on insurance irregularities and sexual abuse cover-ups at USA Swimming and other Olympic sport governing bodies may well be hitting Tygart with much tougher queries than mine. And they might be doing so sooner than anyone realizes.
With that in mind, as soon as this post is published, I will email it to Tygart and reiterate that the public continues to have a compelling interest in responses to the following:
I arrived on the Santa Clara campus around 10:30 a.m. Since Tygart’s name tag was still at the registration table, I knew he hadn’t yet arrived, either, for the scheduled 12:45 p.m. luncheon speech.
Before I had even taken my seat (amusingly, right next to San Francisco 49ers Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, whose keynote speech I had panned last year), a university media relations person approached to inform me that there would not be public questions by microphone this year. Instead, cards would be distributed for written questions that would be read at a moderator’s discretion.
What the Santa Clara spokesperson told me was only partly true. In fact, the symposium passed around a microphone for unfiltered audience questions at the conclusion of panel presentations. The written-question edict applied only to Tygart’s speech. Perhaps the organizers were protecting Tygart or acceding to a format demand of his – as they seemed to have done in years past for National Football League Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith when he potentially faced a posse of retired NFL players poised to ask angry questions about why the union and contemporary players were so stingy in meeting legacy athletes’ health care and pension needs.
I do not know if the symposium consciously imposed special ground rules for the Tygart appearance. If they did, it’s not a federal case. As I said, the federal case consists of the unanswered questions themselves.
Having arrived late, I missed the morning keynote speech by Paraag Marathe, president of the 49ers, a corporate sponsor of the event. In contrast to past years of the symposium, there weren’t many media members or activists present this time whom I knew, so I didn’t get any information on what Marathe said. To this crowd – almost entirely attorneys accruing California Bar minimum continuing legal education credits – I doubt that Marathe said much of substance regarding the current hot Ray Rice-Roger Goodell controversy in the NFL, or the Ray McDonald one pressing the 49er organization itself.
Two familiar faces who conducted interesting panels were Tom Farrey, of ESPN and the Aspen Sports Institute, and Jim Thompson, of the Positive Coaching Alliance. Farrey’s addressed the recent O’Bannon court decision, which jeopardizes the National Collegiate Athletic Association system of hoarding its billions for schools and coaches while sharing none with athletes. Thompson and his panelists, including soccer great Brandi Chastain and Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute (the star of this portion of the program), discussed hazing and bullying issues in the wake of last year’s harassment by Richie Incognito of Miami Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin (now a 49er).
(For those of you wondering, I had a friendly chat with Thompson, with whom I maintain a good dialogue even after expressing displeasure with his presentation at the symposium last year. See https://concussioninc.net/?p=8299. As a whole, the Santa Clara conference still ignores what’s happening in swimming, which I regard as the most undercovered scandal in global sports.)
By the time lunch break rolled around, I still had not sighted Travis Tygart; my backup plan was to introduce myself to him and confront him with questions one-on-one.
It was now past 1:00 p.m., and I did not project the system of later questioning him, via an index card passed up to the podium, as a fruitful approach. Even if my questions didn’t get censored or shuffled to the bottom of the deck while the clock was run out, I risked having them mistranslated or manipulated in front of an audience who didn’t know the second or third things about the subject. Also, I couldn’t afford to hang around until 2:30 and get swallowed by traffic for the 50-mile drive back to Berkeley, where I had to pick up my daughter Lia after school.
I decided to save our fishing tackle for another day.