The great thing about being a sports law “academic” is the ability to take a birds-eye view of “sports” and both laud and critique developments and trends. Too often, of late, as in society as a whole, the critique has far overwhelmed any positive developments. Tonight, however, I was privileged to attend a very special event that reinvigorated my love for sports in the purest sense.
My dear friends’ son, Marcus, participates in a unified basketball league which combines special needs and non-special needs high school students in a wonderfully supportive environment. A week ago, I saw the video of Marcus shooting baskets in a game and I was enthralled. Tonight, my son (age 20 and Marcus’s friend from Kindergarten) and I attended a game and we were spellbound. Players raced up and down the court, and significant athletic skill was exhibited by both special needs and non-special needs students alike. Smiles were rampant. High fives were everywhere, as were fist-pumps. Half-time was celebrated with a dance routine. Every basket was cause for applause, no matter which team scored it. A higher functioning special needs student and basketball phenom caught a ball dropped by an opposing teammate under the basket – and gently handed it back to her for a chance to score. It was an hour of sheer enjoyment and discovery.
Competition doesn’t need to be mean, or unkind. Sportsmanship reveals itself in myriad ways, not the least of which is demonstrated by those who may not be the most athletically gifted. The non-special needs students are inspiring, as are their special needs teammates. Aren’t sports supposed to reflect the best of humanity? The striving for excellence and the camraderie inherent in competition? The professional sports world and the NCAA could learn so much from the WNY Division VI Unified basketball league . . .
Helen A. “Nellie” Drew is an expert in sports law, including professional and amateur sports issues ranging from NCAA compliance and Title IX matters to facility construction, discipline of professional athletes, collective bargaining and franchise issues. Drew formerly served as an officer and in-house counsel to the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, after previously working as outside counsel to the Sabres and the NHL. Among her more interesting experiences were assisting former USSR superstar Alexander Mogilny in obtaining asylum status in the U.S. and working on multiple NHL expansions, including San Jose, Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Drew teaches a variety of courses that incorporate topics such as drug testing in professional sports and professional player contract negotiation and arbitration. She is especially interested in the evolving research and litigation concerning concussions in both amateur and professional sports.