Aaron Hernandez Case Puts UNH Law Sports Law Professor in National Spotlight
Michael McCann heads school's new Sports & Entertainment Law Institute
University of New Hampshire School of Law Professor Michael McCann has had a busy week, appearing on more than a dozen major media outlets to offer his expertise on the Aaron Hernandez case as well as doing original reporting on the case for Sports Illustrated magazine.
McCann, the head of UNH Law’s new Sports and Entertainment Law Institute, is a nationally known sports and entertainment law expert who writes legal articles for Sports Illustrated and SI.com. In the past week, he has appeared on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” the NFL Network, the NBC Sports Network, “The Dan Patrick Show,” WFAN Sports Radio, WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” Show, Comcast SportsNet New England’s “Conference Call” show, and other outlets as the Hernandez case unfolded.
He also wrote two articles – “Breaking Down the Murder Case Against Aaron Hernandez” and “Can Ex-Patriots Star Aaron Hernandez Receive a Fair Trial?” – for SI.com and spent two days in Bristol, Connecticut, the hometown of Hernandez, providing investigative reporting for an article in the July 1 issue of Sports Illustrated. The article, “A Murder in Massachusetts,” appears on pages 40 to 44.
Hernandez was a tight end for the New England Patriots football team until June 26, when he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Massachusetts, for the shooting death of 23-year-old Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player. The case has drawn national attention and prompted larger discussions about the behavior of NFL players.
“It’s a tragic story,” McCann said. “What in part makes it interesting is that it’s about a 23-year-old pro football player who had signed a $40 million contract – who on the field has been an exceptional athlete. He’s a father, has an 8-month-old child. If the allegations are true, he not only killed someone, but he threw it all away.”
Since the Super Bowl, McCann said, 29 NFL players have been arrested, although not necessarily convicted of crimes. And though that is less than 2 percent of the overall number of players in the league, McCann said, “it’s troubling that those who have that great opportunity would put themselves in this position.”
McCann said the case, and his direct experience with it, can be educational for students studying sports law.
“It shows what a case is really all about,” he said. “Students can see cases in case books and read opinions, but to see it all happen live – in real time – really makes a difference.”
And, he said, the Hernandez case prompts bigger legal questions.
“It’s a prescriptive question,” he said. “How we can use the law to create better rules that ensure players don’t walk down the wrong path in life? Players and owners get together to decide the rules through collective bargaining. The law is very implicated in this case, not only criminal law but labor law, and specifically the types of rules that players and owners agree to, that relate to player misconduct and life choices.”
The Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at UNH Law, which will launch this fall under the auspices of the school’s renowned Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property, will provide plenty of opportunities for students to learn from current events and apply those skills in real-world scenarios, McCann said.
He plans to host workshops, open to all UNH Law students and alums, at the law school that will feature hands-on training in different areas of sports and entertainment law, such as contract negotiations between teams and players; background checks of players and how professional and college teams must navigate privacy issues; an intellectual-property-oriented exercise on trademark and copyright issues found in video game licensing agreements; and an advertising law exercise related to corporate sponsorships of international sporting events.
The Institute, and McCann’s renown and firsthand experience in sports law, will give students a practice-ready education.
“Their experiences through the Institute will help them obtain jobs and legal residencies,” McCann said. “They’ll be able to draw comparisons with past cases and what’s happening now. This is what good lawyers do: unravel facts as comprehensively as possible and, based on case law and statutes, figure out how the law can and should treat those facts. Since sports and entertainment law covers almost every area of law, students who participate in the Institute also gain a tactical advantage for their bar exam preparation.”
Professor Alexandra J. Roberts, executive director of UNH Law’s Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property, will work with McCann to run the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute, teaching entertainment law and other related courses.
“Professor McCann is an authority on sports law and a prominent voice in journalism – when athletes and athletic organizations encounter legal hurdles, he’s among the first people called to weigh in,” Roberts said. “His expertise, experience, and accessibility make him an invaluable resource, and our current and incoming students – many of whom follow Professor McCann on Twitter and have tuned in for his live coverage of recent events – are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him.”
McCann has received national attention this year for his insight and reporting on other big stories, including the legality of NFL teams asking college players about their sexual orientation, Ed O'Bannon’s suit challenging the NCAA's right to use student-athletes' likenesses without pay and Lance Armstrong.’s revelations of drug use. McCann also ranks and writes about "The 15 Most Influential Sports Agents" and "The Most Powerful Law Firm in Sports" for Sports Illustrated.
The O’Bannon story “addresses issues that haven’t really been addressed, namely the right of publicity and the value of one’s image,” McCann said, which makes it particularly relevant to the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute’s intellectual property focus. McCann’s exclusive interview with Armstrong in February at his home in Austin, TX, was itself the focus of national media attention. A New York Times blog spotlighted the “serendipitous” way the interview with McCann – Armstrong’s first after his televised conversation with Oprah Winfrey – came about. McCann had noticed that Armstrong had begun following him on Twitter, and the two began talking via direct message. Eventually, Armstrong invited McCann to his home for an “intense” conversation that lasted about three hours and explored a wide-range of legal and personal topics.
McCann’s interview with Armstrong, which he wrote about for Sports Illustrated, included revelations that Armstrong considered giving his first interview to Tom Brokaw rather than to Oprah and that Armstrong also considered producing a short video of himself talking directly to the viewer instead. McCann also touched on Armstrong’s legal issues, which he continues to report on.
McCann, who tweets as @McCannSportsLaw, can regularly be found on the social media platform sharing his expertise and engaging with his almost 16,000 followers.