Will U of M hire first Black athletic director in over 20 years?

Candidate says he brings long-needed experience in diversity

Lee HuttonFriday, April 29, is the deadline for all applications for the vacant University of Minnesota athletic director position. Local attorney Lee Hutton submitted his application earlier this month soon after the job was posted on the university’s website.

“I vow to reestablish a culture of sustainable success,” wrote Hutton in his April 6 letter to University President Eric Kaler of being considered for the Gopher athletics’ top job.

“One of the reasons why I am very interested in this athletic director position is because I am able to take my skills as a lawyer being a problem solver for coaches and athletes in other athletic departments and put them to good use at the University of Minnesota,” explained Hutton last week in a MSR interview to discussed the university’s AD job description, which include “specific responsibilities” and “preferred qualifications and traits.”

A 1999 University of Minnesota graduate with a B.A. degree in journalism and speech communications, Hutton later earned his juris doctorate degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 2002. He is a practicing attorney, and is a partner at Zelle, LLP an international law firm, with offices in downtown Minneapolis, London and China. “I also manage and oversee offices in London, China and in seven states. We’re a multi-million dollar company,” said Hutton.

Hutton has been recognized by his peers — both as a six-time “Rising Star” (2008-13) and as “Super Lawyer” (2013-16) by Minnesota Super Lawyer. He also won 2010 Lawyer of the Year in Minnesota after successfully winning almost a half million in a bench decision for a land dispute case, and $732,000 in a fraudulent disclosure case.

“I think I can strongly say that I am the only one, or one of a few [among the AD candidates] that have represented Division I intercollegiate athletic programs in issues of diversity and inclusion, gender equity and Title IX compliance,” continued Hutton on his “demonstrated experience” in such issues. “The University of Minnesota has had a history of not understanding [this]. I am very versed in NCAA by-laws. It is what I do every day.”

The Gopher AD job also calls for someone with “strong, focused and firm fiscal/financial business management skills. “I’ve been an owner of a law firm since 2007,” said Hutton who also specializes in entertainment, media and sports, as well as represented clients in harassment and Title IX issues, NCAA compliance, contract disputes, media rights and Division I coaching contract negotiations.

“I far exceed in that category [of] requirements, not to mention my specialty is in sports and entertainment,” Hutton pointed out. “I have the personal integrity in my profession.”

Hutton said on his fundraising ability, a job prerequisite, “I help raise money” for several local organizations that work with kids such as “Project Success” and was the 2002 fiscal chairman for the North Minneapolis YMCA and “sit on seven community boards.”

Also, “Being a trial lawyer demands that you have to be a dynamic public speaker,” said Hutton on another aspect of the AD job. “You have to sell the jury on a certain position, and they have to believe the facts. “In the last six or seven years I’ve represented nearly 30 coaches and student-athletes, either coaching contracts, legal issues or administrative issues specifically at the University of Minnesota,” he pointed out. “I’m the only one [among the potential candidates] who can say that. Unfortunately there is a lot of work to do in that category.”

The University hasn’t had a Black male athletic director since McKinley Boston in the 1990s.

“A lot of people ask me why I am quitting my legal job because I am so young in my practice [to pursue the Minnesota AD job],” said Hutton, who expressed his disappointment on the lack of diversity among the athletics senior administration.

Diversity issues on college campuses are ever present “but no one is hired specifically to address these concerns, that are not just plaguing the University of Minnesota but plaguing the entire country at all Division I schools,” said Hutton. “You are also teaching young men and women how to be good citizens. If the environment is hostile to one individual, it is hostile for them all.

“I think I am the only individual that has come out and applied for the job that actually has his pulse on media rights contracts, coaching contracts, fundraising, being a former Gopher…and if we are going to recruit the top coaches in the country, we need to show them a stable, articulate and motivated athletic director who’s willing to create an environment for student athletes and coaches to succeed.

“We’ll see how serious they are,” concluded Hutton on his candidacy for the Minnesota AD position.


Read “Another View” for more on Black leadership in college athletics.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.