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Soledad O'Brien to deliver ASU lecture on importance of participatory democracy

Soledad O'Brien wants Americans to exercise their right to vote.
TV journalist says President Trump is conflicted about the role of the press.
March 28, 2017
soledad o'brien
Soledad O'Brien

The 2016 U.S. presidential election saw voter turnout at its lowest point in two decades, a fact that internationally recognized journalist Soledad O’Brien called “appalling.”

On Saturday, the Emmy-winning O’Brien will share more of her thoughts about participatory democracy at the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy’s Delivering Democracy Lecture 2017 at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in downtown Phoenix.

In her career, O’Brien has anchored several daily and weekly news programs and hosted a pair of CNN documentary series that dealt directly with race, “Black in America” and “Latino in America.” In September, she became the host of “Matter of Fact,” which focuses on alternative views on top issues.

As a woman uniquely suited to discussing both race and democracy, ASU Now reached out to O’Brien to get her perspective on these and other related issues ahead of this weekend's lecture.

Question: How did your own multicultural background O'Brien identifies as black, Cuban, Australian and Irish. come into play as the host of the CNN documentary series “Black in America” and “Latino in America”?

Answer: I did feel that having a multicultural background was very important. There was a lot to cover objectively, so I felt like being both an outsider [as a member of the press] and an insider was a really good thing.

Q: Throughout the past several years, we’ve been bombarded with news stories about police violence toward African-Americans in particular, and even what some would call sanctioned racial profiling, with the passage of bills like SB 1070 and the more recent immigration bans. So there’s a lot to contend with — what would you say is the most pressing concern for racial minorities in America right now?

A: I think the most important issue, which is actually not very sexy, is disenfranchising voters. At the end of the day, if you really think about it, voting is one of most important rights a citizen can have. GerrymanderingGerrymandering is the manipulation of the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class. is also a big issue. They’re sort of nerdy, boring issues that are absolutely essential to a good democracy. Rarely have people been seen marching in the streets over gerrymandering or over voter disenfranchisement. But they’re really critical. And solvable. We have to figure out how to get people to the polls.

Q: Why don’t people vote?

A: This is something we see every election cycle, there are a whole bunch of people who don’t go vote. It’s appalling that people don’t vote. A lot of people don’t vote because they’re not organized; maybe they don’t have all their documents together. Some people don’t vote because they’re too lazy or too busy. And then sometimes they just can’t.

Q: How important is the role of the press in a healthy democracy?

A: It’s critical. I think the press is like the canary in the coal mine. When the person in charge is trying to squelch the press, they’re keeping an eye on things.

Q: Does the current administration’s attitude toward the press concern you?

A: I think the press has been invigorated in a lot of ways by Donald Trump’s treatment of them. He, himself, is conflicted; he both maligns the press and uses the press. But I think the press has really risen to the challenge after Donald Trump made it very clear he thinks the press is the enemy the people.

Free tickets are required to attend O’Briens lecture at 4 p.m. Saturday; click here for more information. Before the lecture, there will be a Community Resource Fair from 1:30-3:30 p.m. featuring a variety of organizations such as the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts admissions team, the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, after-school programs and more. The resource fair is being coordinated by the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. 

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ASU Law alum, Bears chairman George McCaskey says Vegas is ready for NFL

Chicago Bears owner George McCaskey returns to ASU Law to discuss NFL changes.
Bears boss McCaskey says ASU Law degree taught him to solve problems quickly.
March 29, 2017

Population data, realization that gambling was everywhere helped ease concerns over Sin City

Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey said Wednesday that he was skeptical when the Oakland Raiders announced their intention to move to Las Vegas: He thought the city was too small and that gamblers would be too close to players.

But population data and the realization that betting is everywhere changed his mind about taking the NFL to Sin City, he said.

The newly approved move was among a range of topics McCaskey covered in a lecture at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

“We need to keep as much distance from gambling and professional sports as possible,” he said.

“Proper safeguards need to be in place,” he said, adding that he wants to see a league-wide program created to ease concerns. He also said that betting and fantasy football make it possible to place wagers anywhere — not just casinos on the Strip.  

McCaskey’s comments came on the heels of the NFL owners’ meeting in Phoenix where they voted 31-1 to approve the Raiders relocation. The dissenting vote came from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who said that team owners and league officials owe it to fans to do everything possible to stay in the communities that have supported them.

McCaskey, an ASU Law alum, said the Raiders went through a rigorous relocation process and that “Raiders owner Mark Davis will get it right and get the job done” in a city that projects to be as large as Oakland in 20 years.

The Raiders expect to remain in Oakland for three more years before moving to Las Vegas, where there are plans for a $1.9 billion domed stadium.

McCaskey’s talk with students on his experience as a business professional in the National Football League was at the invitation of Glenn M. Wong, executive director of ASU's Sports Law & Business Program.

The Sports Law & Business Program “values opportunities to have leaders from across the sports industry share their unique and relevant perspectives with students,” Wong said.

He added that the chance to hear from an NFL owner — who has come directly from a conference that dealt with franchise relocation, instant replay and game length — “provides students and the ASU Law community with a unique glimpse into the NFL governance process.”

Recognizing sports is big business, ASU Law partnered with the W. P. Carey School of Business and Sun Devil Athletics in 2014 to offer a Master of Sports Law and Business degree. It is the only graduate program in the U.S. that intentionally combines sports law, business and athletics.

McCaskey oversees the operation and management for the Chicago Bears, an NFL franchise that was founded in 1919 by his grandfather George Halas.

A former television reporter and director of ticket sales for the Bears, McCaskey took over operations of the Bears in May 2011 after his brother Michael retired as chairman of the club after 12 years.

The Chicago Bears are valued at $2.7 billion, according to

McCaskey said while football is a uniquely American sport, the NFL is looking to take the game to an international stage.

“We want to take our game globally and dip into those market shares,” McCaskey said. “We want to grow and think going international is the way to do it.”

The NFL has held regular-season games at London’s Wembley Stadium for eight consecutive years, Mexico City for two years and has plans to play in China in 2018.

While McCaskey said the league is enjoying the additional revenue and fanfare, he foresees myriad legal, tax, labor and logistical problems with placing a franchise in a foreign country.

“Let’s say there’s a playoff game in London and the visiting team wins and flies back to the States with only six days to prepare for the next game,” McCaskey said. “To me, that’s a competitive disadvantage.”

The 90-minute discussion and Q&A session also touched on dipping network ratings.

“The NFL is so successful that any drop in ratings is considered a chink in the armor,” McCaskey said. “Viewership is down, but market share is very much on the up.”

He added that this year’s Super Bowl was watched by more than 111 million viewers.

McCaskey also took time to praise ASU Law, saying his jurisdoctorate degree has made him a much better person.

“It gave me the ability to get to the essence of a problem quickly,” he said, “and it gave me the ability not to be intimidated by lawyers.”


Top photo:  Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey, an alumnus of ASU Law, talks with Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law Professor of Practice Glenn Wong and around 50 sports-law and sports-business-interested people at the Beus Center for Law and Society on Wednesday on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now