Former Notre Dame wide-receiver delivers keynote address

The Notre Dame Journal of International and Comparative Law (JICL) held a symposium at Eck Hall of Law on March 24 to discuss a wide range of topics in the field of sports law.

Speakers at the symposium included university professors, lawyers working directly in sports law both in the United States and internationally, and a JICL student panel. The session concluded with a speech and question-and-answer session with former Notre Dame and NFL wide receiver Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, who shared personal stories from his experience in college and professional football.

The symposium began with a segment titled “Sports and the Common Good,” which featured Notre Dame law professor Ed Edmonds and history professor John Soares. Professor Soares argued that access to sports ought to be considered a human right, emphasizing how sports can help tear down national, socioeconomic, and racial divides among people. Professor Soares discussed how, during the Cold War, the political impact of hockey helped to calm the tension that existed between the United States, Canada, and the Soviet Union during that period.

The following segment, entitled “Entering the Sports and Entertainment Industry,” brought together three Notre Dame alumni who currently practice in the industry. Attorney Kevin Schultz discussed his work in sports law within a big law firm, Foley & Lardner. Former Notre Dame baseball captain Matt Nussbaum talked about his experience as general counsel to the MLB Players Association. Finally, New York State Athletic Commissioner Ndidi Massay explored the legal aspects of MMA fighting, which was recently legalized in New York State 2016.

Next, Professor Mike Straubel of Valparaiso Law School detailed the complexities of international sports law in the segment “Advocating before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.” The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is an independent, international legal body headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland that decides cases in sports-related legal issues around the world. Professor Straubel highlighted one example of a case he argued in defense of former Canadian swimmer William Brothers, who was suspended by the international swimming federation FINA for refusing to take a mandatory doping test.

The initial session concluded with a JICL student panel, in which law students discussed research they had performed to explore a specific topic in sports law. Topics included the economic and social impacts of the 2016 Summer Olympics on host country Brazil, the human rights concerns being raised in the leadup to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, an analysis of the Olympic gender-verification process, and the impact of Brexit on English Premier League football.

Ismail’s keynote address focused in part upon the importance of professional football’s complex financial features, which Ismail admitted he did not prioritize when he was younger. “In Western culture, we are unwittingly trained to be consumers,” he said.

In 1991, Ismail entered the NFL draft, but he ultimately decided to play for the Toronto Argonauts, a Canadian Football League team, instead for a then-record $18.2 million contract over four years. After a year with the Argonauts, Ismail returned to the United States to play for the Los Angeles Raiders for a much smaller deal.

Ismail went on to explain that his own consumer-based attitude prevented him from fully understanding the profound impact that the legal and financial intricacies of his CFL and NFL contracts would have on his life.

“I unwittingly had a consumption mindset. I didn’t understand the importance of the details,” Ismail recalled. He also asserted that universities like Notre Dame have the ability and the obligation to help student-athletes solve their financial issues.

“Even at a university, there should be basic financial courses offered (for student-athletes),” he said. “Things that you don’t even think about as a consumer. If you want to do your best for your student athletes, you need to guide them in that direction.”

He concluded his address with a personal lesson that he learned in the 1991 Orange Bowl against Colorado, which the Irish lost 10-9. In the game, Ismail scored a last-minute, seemingly game-clinching punt return touchdown that was called back due to a clipping penalty. However, his message was one of hope, as he felt like he had accomplished the unthinkable by getting into the end zone in the first place despite long odds.

“Whenever that moment of doubt, unbelief, fear enters, there’s always a way,” Ismail said. “There’s always a remedy.”

Brennan Buhr is a first-year political science major living in Knott Hall. He is an 80% free throw shooter. Contact Brennan at