DeMaurice Smith headlines 2022 Sport Management Symposium

DeMaurice Smith, the veteran executive director of the NFL Players Association, served as the keynote speaker for the third annual Elon Sport Management Symposium on April 20, 2022. With a theme of “Changing Dynamics in Sports Media,” the annual symposium also included two panel discussions featuring industry experts from prominent sports media organizations.

The free, in-person event was held in the School of Communications’ Turner Theatre, kicking off with an hourlong conversation between Smith and Assistant Professor Bill Squadron.

Drawing from his decade-long run as leader of the NFL Players Association, Smith addressed topical issues facing the country’s most popular sport, providing unmatched perspective into the players’ increasing use of social media, the collective bargaining process and the relationship between the NFL owners, the league’s players and media organizations and journalists. Smith is well positioned to discuss all NFL-related subjects and was reappointed to his fifth term as executive director in fall 2021.

“We could not be more thrilled to welcome DeMaurice Smith to campus to share his incredible experiences shaping and transforming the NFL. Unquestionably, the NFL is a ratings Goliath, and to have Smith share his insights will be invaluable to our current students learning the business of sport and looking to better understand the sport media landscape.”

– Cara Lucia, chair and associate professor in the Sport Management Department

Lucia’s assessment of the NFL’s popularity is spot on. According to Variety, the NFL earned 39 of the 100 slots for top telecasts in 2021, including the No. 1 spot with the Super Bowl.

Following Smith’s conversation, the symposium shifted gears to panel discussions, beginning with the “Athlete-Generated Content: Brand Management or Journalism?” panel. Participants included Paul Fichtenbaum, chief content officer for The Athletic, Sean Conboy, editor-in-chief of The Players’ Tribune, and Merritt Mathias, a member of the North Carolina Courage, a professional women’s soccer team based in Cary, North Carolina.

A second panel, titled “Redefining the Reporter-Athlete Relationship: Coverage, Access, and Mental Health,” discussed the changing and challenging dynamic between athletes and the individuals who report on them. Panelists included Ted Keith, assistant managing editor of Sport Business Journal, Lauren Walker, assistant professor exercise science at Elon University, and Joe Favorito, a sport strategic communications consultant and co-host of “Columbia University Sports Podcast.”

Symposium program

A conversation with DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director, NFL Players Association
4:30 p.m.

“Athlete-Generated Content: Brand Management or Journalism?” Panel
5:30 p.m.

Sean Conboy, Editor-In-Chief, The Players’ Tribune
Paul Fichtenbaum, Chief Content Officer, The Athletic
Merritt Mathias, Professional Athlete, North Carolina Courage

“Redefining the Reporter-Athlete Relationship: Coverage, Access, and Mental Health” Panel
6:30 p.m.

Joe Favorito, Sport Strategic Communications Consultant and Co-Host, “Columbia University Sports Podcast”
Ted Keith, Assistant Managing Editor, Sport Business Journal
Lauren Walker, Assistant Professor of Exercise Science, Elon University


Photo of DeMaurice Smith.

DeMaurice Smith

DeMaurice Fitzgerald Smith is executive director of the NFL Players Association, the labor union representing NFL players. He was reappointed to his fifth term as executive director in fall 2021. In 2020, he successfully negotiated his second long-term collective bargaining agreement with the NFL. The 11-year deal introduced an additional game into the regular season, while also providing players with their guaranteed highest share of NFL revenue in history. In 2011, Smith signed an historic 10-year collective bargaining agreement with NFL management, leading the players through the owners’ 132-day lockout. The two CBAs remain the longest-standing agreements between labor and management in any sports league. Prior to his NFLPA work, Smith was an assistant United States attorney in the District of Columbia and was counsel to then-Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. He served as a partner in the law firms of Latham & Watkins, LLP and Squire Patton Boggs, LLP, representing corporations, boards of directors and senior executives in civil and criminal matters. Smith is a sought-after motivational speaker and guest lecturer on the topics of leadership, ethics, sports law, and high-stakes negotiation. A native Washingtonian, Smith resides in his hometown with his family.

Photo of Sean Conboy.

Sean Conboy

Sean Conboy is the editor-in-chief of The Players’ Tribune, where he was one of the founding editors at the launch of the company in 2014. In his role, he has worked hand-in-hand with several of the world’s top athletes, including Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Russell Wilson, Damian Lillard, A’ja Wilson, Megan Rapinoe, Romelu Lukaku and Raheem Sterling. He has also directed some of the Players’ Tribune’s groundbreaking video features, including NBA legend Lamar Odom discussing his battles with drug addiction and depression. Prior to joining The Players’ Tribune, Conboy was a contributing writer for Wired Magazine.

Photo of Joe Favorito.

Joe Favorito

Joe Favorito has more than three decades of expertise in strategic communications, marketing, business development and public relations, spanning the fields of sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, athletic administration and business. The Brooklyn, New York, native has managed the day-to-day activities in strategic communications for two of the world’s hallmark sports and entertainment brands (the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers), the world’s largest professional sport for women (the WTA Tour), the world’s largest sports National Governing Body (the United States Tennis Association), and the world’s largest annual sporting event (the U.S. Open). He is the co-host of the Columbia University Sports Podcast, “The CUSP Show.”

Photo of Paul Fichtenbaum.

Paul Fichtenbaum

Paul Fichtenbaum is the chief content officer of The Athletic, a sports subscription website that was acquired by The New York Times. Previously, he was the editor-in-chief of the Sports Illustrated Group, overseeing all cross-platform editorial operations for SI, SI Kids and Golf Magazine. During his career, Fichtenbaum has won numerous industry awards, including an Emmy, an Ellie (National Magazine Award) and a Webby (sports video). In 2014, he was named Ad Age Editor of the Year.

Photo of Ted Keith.

Ted Keith

Ted Keith is an assistant managing editor at Sports Business Journal, the so-called “bible” of the sports business industry. He oversees cover areas including baseball, football, hockey, soccer, finance and sports culture. Before joining the Journal, Keith spent 15 years at Sports Illustrated as a reporter, staff writer and senior editor for SI Kids, and the parent magazine. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he lives in Chapel Hill with his wife and family.

Photo of Merritt Mathias.

Merritt Mathias

Merritt Mathias is a defender for the North Carolina Courage, a National Women's Soccer League franchise in Cary, North Carolina. She has been a part of the Courage since 2018, has played in almost 70 games for the club, and has won two NWSL Championships (2018, 2019), two NWSL Shields (2018, 2019) and the ICC Championship in 2018. She previously played for FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign FC. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Mathias excelled at an early age and was a Parade Magazine high school All-America selection in 2007. She played collegiately at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Texas A&M University.

Photo of Lauren Walker.

Lauren Walker

Lauren Walker is an assistant professor exercise science at Elon University, and she focuses on the psychosocial aspects of youth sport and youth sport coaching. Specifically, her recent work has examined the impact of leadership roles and ways to improve the captaincy leadership experience in youth athletes and the impact of informal means of learning (e.g., communities of practice, social media groups, social networks) in the education of a youth sport coach. She has worked in conjunction with several community partners including the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), USA Swimming and the Ross Initiative in Sport for Equality (RISE).