Today I had the terrific pleasure of listening to DeMaurice Smith, UVA Law graduate and the director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) speaking to us as part of Darden’s Leadership Speaker Series. He’s a brilliant speaker and easily seems charming, accessible, funny and compelling – in short, everything you want in a lawyer. I’d hate to face him in a courtroom or across a bargaining table. A self-proclaimed “whiteboard guy” who illustrated his points with big, bold numbers on a dry erase board, he excels at simplifying complex ideas and situations for bite-size consumption. And really, once you take the first bite, find it palatable and maybe even delicious, isn’t it easy to take the next one? His examples were peppered with great football names – Brady, Brees, Peterson, and he also skillfully called upon testimonials from the two ex-NFL players who are also current Darden students.
His concise take on a decidedly messy situation included the expiry of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the dissolution of the NFLPA as a labor union and a shaded but convincing summary of what the owners want vs. what the NFLPA wants. To sum it up? “We’d rather not be locked out.” And what about the fans? Simply, “our fans dig our players.” And the whole big mess? Well, America is in a recession, you know. How terrible is it to deprive football cities and the US economy of a $9 billion dollar industry?
I was impressed by him, the total package of charisma, smooth speech, intelligence and wit. I respected his style and his smarts – and two things made me decide I respect him as a person as well. One, he mentioned his wife is a breast cancer survivor and even his bad days are a walk in the park compared to what survivors have experienced. And two, his take on leadership: “Leadership is when you can inspire and pick talent so that your organization is better off with you and not worse off without you.”
My last job before Darden was in sports marketing. I loved it for a variety of reasons. Yes, for the glam factor but also for the power of sports to incite people and provoke passion, emotion and irrational behavior (body painting in 10 degree weather?). People care about sports on a basic level, for better or for worse, and I love that. You could say I’m a fan of sports, or a fan of being a fan. I hope the NFL players, past and current, get a fair shake when it comes to healthcare and controlling interests. And I’m begging everyone – the owners and league and players and lawyers and agents – to compromise and play nice in time for a 2011 NFL season that we can all dig.