For legal issues in sports, he’s the Silver standard
It would be too easy to look at Steve Silver as a modern-day Clark Kent, since he’s a former mild-mannered reporter for metropolitan newspapers who wears glasses. And while he’s no Superman, he has become a champion of the people, his mission as a lawyer to right injustice when he sees it.
Except the 29-year-old Pittsburgh native has gone beyond that. As co-founder — along with fellow college classmate Ben McKenna — of The Legal Blitz, a sports blog (thelegalblitz.com) that details the legal ramifications of current issues, Silver has become somewhat of a national celebrity among the sports nascenti.
His blog now appears regularly on high-traffic websites such as Deadspin and Above the Law Redline. He’s been a frequent guest on ESPN radio affiliate sports talk shows. And he’s become somewhat of a folk hero in Jamaica, having gone to extraordinary lengths back in April to have world-class sprinter Michael O’Hara reinstated for the Penn Relays, overturning O’Hara’s questionable disqualification for allegedly turning pro.
Silver says all he’s doing is simply continuing to follow the examples of what he learned as a kid. “I remember while growing up the stories you read in Hebrew school and the stories from my grandparents,” recalled Silver, who attended the Conservative Beth El Congregation in the South Hills section of Pittsburgh. “I think that drove me to be a storyteller — and also drove me, now that I think about it, in my legal career to help people.
“I think all Jews have a keen sense of when someone’s been wronged and an injustice is being done. Whether it’s an athlete like Michael O’Hara or a courtroom client, you can tell if someone is trying to take advantage of them. It happens more often than people realize. You try to protect them. You stand up.”
Silver has only been standing up for the little guy a few years, having graduated from Temple Law School in 2013. The law wasn’t his first career choice: He is a graduate of the esteemed Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and interned in the sports departments of the Washington Times, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Cleveland Plain Dealer along the way. That led to a post-graduate intern position job covering the minor league baseball Nashville Sounds, along with bull riding and the growing sport of mixed martial arts, for The Tennessean.
He began posting MMA videos, which drew the attention of the Las Vegas Sun, which brought him in to do a bit of everything, including covering the trial of a star high school football player accused of kidnapping his girlfriend.
Still, Silver wasn’t ready to give up the less-than-glamorous life of a sportswriter. “Being a lawyer was the last thing I ever wanted to do,” admitted Silver, who joined the Philadelphia firm of McBreen & Kopko in April 2014 after serving as a clerk at two firms while in law school. “When I graduated from Medill, only a handful of us were going into journalism. Since my freshman year in high school” — Mt. Lebanon High, which Mark Cuban also attended — “all I wanted to do was be a sports reporter. But then everything I spent four years learning began changing. Suddenly, with Twitter and blogging you had to build a brand. It was about you, not the event you were covering. I didn’t want to have to worry about all that. I started thinking about other options. I decided to take the LSAT and see what happens.”
What’s happened is that Silver graduated from Temple Law School while also interning for the East Coast Hockey League. He worked part time for Goldberg, Miller and Rubin before joining McBreen & Kopko.
Even before that, though, the seeds for The Legal Blitz were sown. “Ben and I started Legal Blitz after my first year of law school in 2011,” said Silver, who recently married public defender Alisa Margulies, a Boston native whom he met through JDate. “Above the Law is sort of like Gawker — a mix of actual legal news and gossip. I liked doing Q&A’s with lawyers, agents and sports law professors, mixed with gaming issues like poker or fantasy sports. Above the Law would put those out and that would drive a lot of traffic to my site.”
Eventually, Silver met the ATL editors at a local event. He also spoke with Paul Greene, an attorney who specialized in representing Olympic athletes being called before international tribunals for alleged doping or other violations. He published a Q&A with Greene and another with LGBT legal specialist Angela Giampolo about potential workplace issues Michael Sam might face in football after becoming the first openly gay player.
Ultimately, that led to a meeting with Elie Mystal, ATL’s founder, who convinced Silver to write for the site while using Kinja as his platform. Silver did and has never looked back.
“He said, ‘Write for us and we’ll get you on Deadspin,’ ” recalled Silver, whose career has since taken off. “They started sending my work to Deadspin, and it caught fire.” A recent, high-profile example of Silver’s specialty came just last week, when New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith’s jaw was broken by a teammate in a locker room incident. “I shot them an email, saying ‘This is assault.’ I tried to explain, ‘Here’s the New Jersey statute. And then there’s potential civil lawsuits and insurance issues.’ Within 24 hours, we had 30,000 hits. That kind of exposure has gotten me some cases.”
His online presence is a win-win both for Silver and for McBreen & Kopko, as well as for all the little guys he’s representing such as Michael O’Hara. “Paul Greene called to tell me about this kid from Jamaica who was coming to Philly but had been suspended from running in the Penn Relays,” said Silver of the world-class high school sprinter whose rights were essentially being violated based on hearsay evidence. “He had won four gold medals at a Jamaican meet, but someone reported he had signed a contract with a cell phone company. So someone at Penn Relays decided, ‘He signed a contract. He’s not an amateur. He can’t run.’ ”
Thus began an exhaustive process over the course of a full week in which Silver attempted to persuade Relays officials and PIAA (the Pennsylvania scholastic governing body) officials how outrageous and unfair their actions were. First, he sued the Relays and the PIAA for violating due process, seeking an injunction.
But nothing worked until Silver finally was able to persuade the cell phone company to void the so-called “contract,” which would enable O’Hara to retain his amateur status. O’Hara was ultimately named High School Athlete of the Meet, after helping famed Calabar High win two events and set a Relays record in the 4×100 relay.
“When that happened I did probably 12 interviews on Jamaican media that day,” said Silver, recently named — as was his wife — to billypenn.com’s “Who Next in the Law” list for young lawyers who will be making a difference. “That really legitimizes what I’m capable of doing and what we can do here.”
Maybe he’s not Clark Kent. And he’s certainly not Superman or even Perry Mason. But when it comes to defending truth, justice and the American Way, he, too, just won’t be denied.
Jon Marks is a reporter for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. He can be reached at email@example.com.