In Memoriam: Matt Benedict

Professor Nellie Drew, Director – UB Center for the Advancement of Sport

Last week, the UB Sports Law community was devastated by the loss of one of its most vibrant, enthusiastic members. Matt Benedict, a second year law student, died suddenly on July 1st. The photo above shows Matt, on the far right, with some of the members of our sports law blog group this spring, Will Hython, Joe Notartomas and Alex Betschen.

As his professor, I valued Matt’s willingness to contribute in class, sharing his perspective as a student-athlete on the various topics we discussed. Matt’s insight and ability to articulate made him especially effective in fostering engagement by other students. His kindness and openness encouraged the type of frank discussion that gives rise to creative thinking, new ideas and fresh approaches to difficult problems. In particular, I will always cherish the memory of an especially dynamic class when Matt, in combination with co-editor Joe Schafer, blog author Joe Notartomas and several others, debated the approaches professional sports leagues might take in regulating the use of CBD in light of its potential therapeutic effects for treatment of concussions. That freewheeling discussion, which persisted for almost four hours (!), well beyond the scheduled class time, ultimately gave rise to this blog.

Matt’s contributions extended well beyond the classroom. Whenever BSELS hosted an event, Matt was the penultimate marketing guru, and the ultimate host. His wide smile, enthusiasm for sports law, and his polished manners welcomed speakers and fellow students alike. When the opportunity arose for an externship during the MAC basketball tournament this spring, Matt jumped at it. Upon arriving in Cleveland only to discover that the person who was to supervise him and several others had fallen ill, Matt stepped up to serve in his stead – and did so with such panache that he was invited to return next year. Matt was truly an excellent ambassador for UB Sports Law.

The essence of Matt, however, was his empathy for others. He knew absolutely EVERYBODY, and everybody knew and liked him. He was generous in offering his extended network to other students – just because. Moreover, in his capacity as student extern for the Athletic Department this spring, Matt developed a rapid response card to assist students suffering from mental health concerns. That card will serve many, many student-athletes going forward.

While we continue to mourn Matt’s loss, we are grateful for having had the opportunity to know him and to work with him. His passion and concern for fellow students and student-athletes in particular will continue to motivate our efforts in the future.

Joe Schafer, Classmate & Sports Law Forum Editor

I only knew Matt for our few short years together in law school, but what struck me from day one was the confidence he exuded.  Whether it was during class discussion, meeting with professors during break, or in the hallways engaging with other students, he was never afraid to put himself out there.  Law school’s Socratic method “cold call” style never seemed to phase him, and the tougher the topic, the more willing Matt was to  wrestle with it.  He was a constant class contributor–someone who loved to participate in class discussion, share ideas, and intellectually spar with his fellow classmates on nuanced topics. 

Matt always seemed to bring out the best in the people around him, especially in our UB Sports Law community.  But this came as no surprise to me–he was a student-athlete at heart.  Although he retired from football, he never stopped being a model teammate.  He went out of his way to get to know our small community of Sports Law enthusiasts and he took a keen interest in our next steps.  He wanted to help everyone around him navigate the future and achieve their dreams.  Matt genuinely cared.

One moment we shared stands out in particular.  On a fall day in 2017 during Professor Drew’s Drug Testing in Professional Sports seminar, we found out that the University of North Carolina would not be punished in any capacity by the NCAA for its decade-long academic fraud scandal that resulted in numerous student-athletes receiving sham grades to maintain eligibility.  We launched into class discussion to debate the topic. Initially, I was livid, and I expressed that to the room.  As a student-athlete at Davidson College, I often competed against players from the school at regional tournaments.  How could we be considered to be operating under the same bylaws when I put in late nights in the library after practice to keep up on my work and other student-athletes didn’t even have to attend class to get an A?  How was that fair?

And then Matt chimed in. 

He looked me right in the eye with intense sincerity.  His message was simple.  You earned your degree.  They were given theirs.  Don’t be sorry you put in those long hours, because your career and your diploma mean something to you.  They were the result of hard work: your hard work.  No one can take that away from you.  You did it the right way–be proud of that.

Matt was a former student-athlete who worked his butt off both on the field and in the classroom at Middlebury.  He earned his degree.  He was proud of it.  So proud that he would often walk the halls of O’Brian in his Middlebury football gear.  I had always respected him as a classmate before, but from that day forward I respected him as a leader.  In that moment I also understood that this was not an isolated incident, this was who Matt was.  A confident leader and a role model–the consummate teammate. It was an honor to learn and grow alongside Matt during our time together at the law school.  We will miss his confidence, his enthusiasm, and his energy.  

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