Don Zavelo, L’78
KU LAW EDUCATION CREATES ‘LAWYERS WITH A POINT OF VIEW’
Want to make a baseball fan shudder? Mention the years 1994 and ’95. That’s when a Major League Baseball strike resulted in the cancellation of more than 900 games and the 1994 World Series, as managers and the players’ union duked it out.
Somewhere near the core of that maelstrom was Don Zavelo, L’78. As deputy regional attorney at the New York office of the National Labor Relations Board, Zavelo had a hand in helping the two sides break the impasse.
“Because most of the national media and entertainment and professional sports leagues had their corporate headquarters in Manhattan,” he said, “whenever there was a national labor dispute that involved one of the industries, it ended up on my desk – or at least in my office.”
Now Zavelo is part of one of the industries he once policed. In October 2011, he became general counsel of the National Hockey League Players’ Association, a role that combines his love of sports with his interest in labor law. Zavelo’s journey to his dream job – with an office in Toronto, the hockey capital of the world – started at the University of Kansas.
Zavelo focused on labor law at Green Hall, and he went to work for the NLRB in Kansas City right out of law school, eventually ending up in the New York office. Although Zavelo never heard the term “sports law” until well after he graduated, he worked on plenty of high-profile sports cases during his more than 30 years with the NLRB.
“We had hockey and football and basketball,” he said, “and they all pretty much concerned difficult bargaining disputes that came before the Board because the union, or in some cases the league, alleged the other side had engaged in bad-faith bargaining.”
Zavelo’s career path illustrates the important role that labor law plays in professional sports. He also relies on wisdom imparted by KU Law professors in the areas of torts, contracts, antitrust and criminal law.
“KU Law creates lawyers with a point of view,” Zavelo said. “I knew from my first labor law class that I wanted to represent the interests of employees and their unions. Green Hall not only gave me a strong sense of what I could accomplish as a lawyer, but also emphasized the fundamentals, advocacy and good writing. While my work has since taken me from Kansas to the East Coast, that KU confidence and sense of what it means to be a lawyer continues to guide me all these years later.”