Lawyer advocated for Oregon back
Within days of Oregon announcing that LeGarrette Blount was suspended for the season last month, the senior running back's parents and a lawyer representing Blount spoke with Ducks athletic director Mike Bellotti to discuss possible reinstatement.
The call came about after Blount had enlisted the help of the NCAA Alumni Association, a newly formed nonprofit designed to advocate for student-athletes. The president of that organization, Chris Horn, told ESPN that his group receives pro bono assistance from attorney Rob Carey, a trial lawyer specializing in class-action lawsuits -- including a current one brought against the NCAA in a separate case.
Horn said Carey was on the Sept. 8 call, which came three days after Blount was suspended for punching Boise State defensive end Byron Hout and exchanging hostilities with Broncos fans. Also on the call were Blount's parents, Horn, Bellotti and a university lawyer.
Bellotti told ESPN the call provided an opportunity for him to explain Oregon's thinking to Blount's parents, and for the parents to urge the school to reconsider. The athletic director said Carey said very little during the call and he wasn't sure why the lawyer was part of the discussion.
"More, the call itself was a plea by parents for understanding and leniency," Bellotti said.
Asked if he didn't think a lawyer's presence on the call signaled that it represented anything more serious, Bellotti said, "Well, no, it did not, although I will say I was aware enough that we had legal counsel on the phone in case questions were asked that needed to be answered."
Horn, whose organization is not affiliated with the NCAA, wouldn't detail the nature of the call, other than to say its purpose was to ensure Blount was receiving due process and Oregon had fully considered its action. At the end of the call, the parties agreed to talk again in a few weeks, according to Horn. Bellotti said there was no agreement for further discussion.
Horn said Carey's guidance was sought "to insure that the student-athlete has the ability to have counsel or an outside voice to talk to. As it stands, there is due process for every student in the NCAA, but in these situations, they don't have it. The student-athlete is under the auspices of the coach and the athletic director. [But] we worked closely with the athletic director, and the family made an appeal."
Carey, a managing partner in the Phoenix office of the firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, declined to comment when reached by ESPN.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly initially announced Sept. 5 that Blount was suspended for the season in the wake of the incident, though he said the running back could continue to practice with the team. On Friday, Kelly reversed course, opening the door for Blount's possible return this season, no sooner than the Nov. 7 game against Stanford.
Kelly told reporters in Eugene he and Blount had signed an agreement detailing "some academic and behavioral ladders that he has to climb for him to ever have the opportunity to play football again.''
Kelly also said his decision followed discussions Kelly had with, among others, Dr. Harry Edwards and Tony Dungy -- both of whom had spoken with Blount. Kelly never mentioned that a lawyer representing Blount had been in discussion with the school.
Edwards and Dungy could not be reached for comment Friday. One source who had direct knowledge of the situation disputed Kelly's explanation for reconsidering Blount's status.
"That's not why they would do it, not because he went and met with Harry Edwards for 10 minutes," the source said. "They did it for one of three reasons -- because he can help the team, because they realized perhaps there was an overreaction or because they were worried about a lawsuit. It's probably a combination of the three."
Bellotti dismissed the notion that Blount having legal representation or assistance from the advocacy group played any role in Kelly's reversal.
"None whatsoever," Bellotti said. "That's never been an issue in any of these discussions."
Horn, who played running back at Michigan in the late '80s, told ESPN that to suggest the reversal was rooted in Edwards and Dungy providing comfort to Oregon was little more than spin. Horn and another source with knowledge of the situation said Blount had relatively brief conversations with Edwards and Dungy in the week or so after the incident; however, Horn said Blount's mother, the presence and power of Carey, and his own organization were a constant.
"The reality is no, this would not have happened, period," without legal guidance and the push from Blount's parents, said Horn, who described Bellotti as a "hero" for his role in the situation. "Anytime any of us gets a second chance, it's always the quiet voices in the background that make things happen. LeGarrette's parents played an incredible role. Barb, his mom, made an impassioned plea."
Horn said he has spoken to Blount almost daily since the incident, hopeful his group could help the running back focus on all aspects of his life. Blount has been dealing with the added pressures of becoming a new father -- Blount's fiancée, Merissa McCullugh, gave birth to LeGarrette Blount Jr., on Sept. 17 -- as well as the death of a close aunt (whom Horn said died "a few weeks" before the Boise State game).
Mark Fainaru-Wada is an investigative reporter on ESPN's enterprise unit. Fainaru-Wada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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