N. Jeremi Duru

Advancing The Ball

“I believe that sport can unite people. It can also divide, but its power to unite is much greater. Sport, with its symbolism and scale, is a powerful societal tool.” So says Professor N. Jeremi Duru, as examples of what he means roll off of his tongue. “The 1995 Rugby World Cup, which South Africa hosted and won in its first appearance since the end of apartheid; Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics; Billie Jean King’s entire career.” These moments and more illustrate sport’s unique ability to help us transcend our daily rituals of difference and touch the glory of our common humanity, if only for a time. They evoke our better selves.

Duru should know – he’s built a career around his twin passions for sport and civil rights. After completing a joint degree program at Harvard, where he received his J.D. from Harvard Law and his Master’s Degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Duru clerked for Judge Damon J. Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He credits Judge Keith, a renowned figure in the civil rights movement, with being his first professional mentor. Later, Duru joined the boutique civil rights firm of Mehri and Skalet, PLLC, which had just taken on the challenge of improving employment opportunities for minorities in professional athletics. “It was quite an opportunity,” says Duru. “I’ve always loved sports, and I’ve always had a passion for pursuing social equality. This job presented the perfect blend.”

Duru’s forthcoming book, ADVANCING THE BALL: RACE, REFORMATION, AND THE QUEST FOR EQUAL COACHING OPPORTUNITY IN THE NFL, tells the story of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the group that was formed to push for greater opportunities for minority leadership in the National Football League. Duru continues to provide the group with advice and counsel on a pro bono basis. In writing the book, Duru hopes not only to tell the Alliance’s story but to inspire efforts to develop anti-discrimination principles in similar professional cultures.

Duru’s own professional culture changed significantly when he left practice to join the Temple Law faculty in 2005. He had discovered a love for the classroom during a summer spent teaching civil rights and literature to urban fifth graders. Later, he came back to the idea as a way to gain the intellectual space necessary to think and write on a deeper level. “As much as I loved practice, I had also grown to love writing and scholarship in a way that practice doesn’t allow. I wanted to explore questions like ‘what truly motivates change in the law?’ and ‘where might this doctrine or that doctrine go if pushed?’” he explains. “Moving to academia gave me the chance to do that.” Choosing Temple, he says, was easy. “I wanted a strong institution that emphasized both teaching and scholarship, and I wanted to be in a major metropolitan area. From my first interview at Temple, I knew this was a place where I could be happy.”

It is a relationship that has worked out very well. In addition to being a prolific scholar, Duru has proven to be a rising star in the classroom as well. In 2008, Duru received the George P. Williams Memorial Award for Outstanding Professor of the Year from the graduating class. His classes in sports law, employment discrimination, and civil procedure enjoy tremendous popularity, which gives him plenty of opportunity to mentor law students as they negotiate the intellectual rigors of law school and practice.

For Professor N. Jeremi Duru, harnessing the profound societal power of sport has been an effective means of advancing the ball in the civil rights arena as well. Thanks to Professor Duru and the men and women who have carried our hopes and dreams so bravely for so long, we are that much closer to the goals of equality and justice for all.

" Sport, with its symbolism and scale,
is a powerful societal tool. "
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