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Sports fan-turned-attorney finds dream job at NCAA

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In-House Counsel

Naima Stevenson’s love for sports began about the time she realized that sports fans in her household got to watch the big TV.

Stevenson said she and her mother watched movies together on a small television, while her stepfather watched sports on the home’s larger television.

“I said, ‘I’m tired of looking at this little TV,’” Stevenson said. So, as a 7-year-old, she joined her stepfather to watch and learn about football, golf, and all the other sports he followed.

Now 34, Stevenson has many opportunities to follow sports as the assistant general counsel and director of legal affairs for the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
 

stevenson-naima-15col Naima Stevenson (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

She marked her fifth anniversary with the organization this spring, but she said it seems like little time has passed since she got the job offer.

In March 2006, Stevenson visited Indianapolis to interview for the position, during the men’s NCAA Final Four. It was the first trip to Indianapolis for the Brooklyn-born-and-raised Stevenson. She was watching basketball at home when the call came.

“I remember it was Maryland – my alma mater – playing in the women’s Final Four when I got the call,” Stevenson said.

Since joining the NCAA, she has advised the legal staff on a seemingly endless stream of lawsuits. She explained that the NCAA can be sued in any state where it has a member organization, which is why staff relies on outside counsel for litigation.

She advises staff about enforcement and infraction questions. Staff members may ask, for example, if they can request phone records as part of an investigation, or whether certain requests for information are appropriate. But the majority of her work involves advising the busy NCAA Committee on Infractions.

“Institutions have an obligation to almost tell on themselves,” Stevenson said. Colleges will generally report rules violations to the NCAA, and the enforcement staff investigates those reports. If a violation has occurred, the committee on infractions takes over. She attends all hearings for the committee on infractions and travels around the country frequently to attend court proceedings and depositions.

“We’re a small legal staff, so we all pitch in as needed,” she said. And her willingness to jump in and help has not gone unnoticed.

“Naima is highly regarded by her clients and colleagues within the NCAA national office, the membership, and others who work with her on a regular basis,” said Donald Remy, NCAA general counsel and vice president of legal affairs. “She is relied upon to help distill complex issues into practical legal recommendations. Her approach to client service causes her to be sought out, which is one of the highest compliments inside counsel can receive. I am very pleased to have her on my team.”

While Stevenson is a team player in the figurative sense, she said she has never considered herself an athlete. As a child, she reluctantly participated in the Colgate Women’s Games track meet, finishing second-to-last in her group. “I don’t think it was my idea to go – I think it was my mom’s,” she said.

Stevenson does enjoy playing in an annual charity softball game, which is an outreach activity that NCAA Executive Vice President Bernard Franklin established as part of the NCAA African-American Community Enhancement Group. Stevenson said the NCAA fields a team of “hodge podge staff” that competes against employees of Indianapolis radio station WTLC to raise money for charity. For Stevenson, outreach is one of the more rewarding parts of her job.

“Any opportunity I can get to talk to young people – that’s something I enjoy,” she said.

She volunteers to read to children during Indiana Black Expo when youth groups participating in Expo events are on lunch break. She said she enjoys reading children’s books by her friend, Sahar Simmons, author of the “Briana’s Neighborhood” series.

Simmons also grew up in Brooklyn, and has known Stevenson since the two were children. “My sister and she are best friends – she has literally been in my life since elementary school,” Simmons said.

“Naima is one of the most genuine and kind-hearted people that I know,” Simmons said. “She is extremely driven, but she doesn’t come across harsh.”

Even as a child, Stevenson was driven to succeed – she correctly predicted in the fifth grade that she would become a lawyer and graduate from Harvard University. And it was while she was working on her Juris Doctorate at Harvard that she decided to pursue a career in sports law. She knew that no sports organization would hire someone fresh out of law school for a corporate counsel position, so she decided to join a firm and gain some real-life experience.

She joined Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C., where she was a corporate and securities associate for five years. During that time, she said she “started really getting the itch to look for sports law opportunities,” and that led her to interview for the NCAA job.

Stevenson’s love of sports has also played a big role in her personal life. This year, she became engaged to Stephen Starks, legal affairs director for the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Starks played in the National Basketball Association Development League before earning his law degree from Valparaiso University.

In her spare time, Stevenson still enjoys the hobbies she shared with her mother and stepfather as a child: watching movies and sports.

“I have the NFL Sunday Ticket, so on Sundays, I’m on the couch watching football,” she said.•

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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