Photo via @justinJselep96
As a part of my coverage of hockey and the law, I thought it could be fun and interesting to interview people that practice “hockey law” and/or lawyers (or future lawyers) that have a hockey background. I’ll ask questions about their careers, current sports/hockey law issues, and some fun stuff.
Being a Division I college athlete is very demanding. The same is said for being a 1L in law school. Imagine doing both at the same time? Well, that’s what Justin Selep did this past school year as he played for Michigan State University’s men’s ice hockey team while also being a 1L at the MSU College of Law. Due to this unique combination, Justin was the perfect recipient of the first ever Dawana and Daniel M. Downey Hockey Scholarship.
The Western Pennsylvania native played four years of Division III hockey (first with Nazareth College and then with Suffolk University) before using his fifth year of NCAA eligibility at MSU. Not only did he get to put on the Sparty uniform last season, he was previously named team MVP and second-team all-conference at Suffolk, while also being named the school’s student-athlete of the year.
Justin was gracious enough to take a moment to answer The Hockey Blawg’s first ever Q&A:
Q: By looking at your career statistics, it appears that you had a roller coaster career from prep school, to two Division III stints, and then a chance to play for a Big Ten school. What did you learn the most throughout your hockey experience?
A: What I learned the most throughout my hockey experience was to stay within yourself and not compare yourself to anyone else. The more I focused on improving areas of my game that I knew could separate myself from my opponents, the more I found myself in opportunities to succeed. Throughout a hockey career you're going to run into people that doubt you and say, "you're not good enough," "you're not fast enough," or you need to lower your expectations. When I heard that I knew it was time to internalize and focus on the simple improvements that eventually make big dividends. I found the moment I was supposedly "out of my league," was the exact place I needed to be.
Q: Why did you decide to go to law school?
A: There were many reasons why I decided to go to law school. Most importantly, I was very attracted to the intellectual ability that lawyers possess. The capability to think, plan, and devise a strategy was something I took a liking to and pushed me to go to law school. Also, both my parents, my uncle, my cousin and a close friend of mine are attorneys, and they are all people I look up to on a daily basis.
Q: Are there any lessons you learned from playing hockey that translated into your first year at law school? Did you learn anything in law school that helped you on the ice?
A: The biggest thing I learned that applied to both on the ice and in law school was everything you do is an investment. As a law student and a hockey player, everything you do on a daily basis does not yield immediate results, rather the pay-off is down the road. There are a lot of times as a hockey player you are working out, practicing, or watching video that goes unnoticed until it's your time to perform. Same with being a law student. There are countless hours of reading, researching, and writing that goes unseen before you have to perform on your final exam or paper.
Q: What does the typical day of a 1L/DI athlete look like?
A: The typical day was to get up and go to class. I normally had two classes that were an hour and forty minutes long. Depending on the day, after my first class in the morning I would go to the rink and do a skills skate with the assistant coach with a few other members of the team. I would return back to the law school and attend my second class of the day. Following that, I would go back to the rink for practice and we would watch video as a team and then practice for about two hours. After practice, we would do weight training and have a team dinner. For the rest of the night I would read and take notes on the material I would have to be prepared to discuss tomorrow in class.
Q: How did you balance the demands of law school while also being a Division I student-athlete? Did your fellow law students and professors treat you differently since you were a Division I athlete?
A: The way I balanced the demands of being a law student and a Division I student-athlete was to stay proactive and flexible. I was upfront with all my professors about my situation and the obligations I had as an athlete. The professors were accommodating and understanding, but held me to the same standards as the rest of the law school. Also, the coaching staff was extremely aware and understanding about the rigors of a law student. Being the first active NCAA Division I hockey player while being a law student in Michigan State University Athletics history posed some scheduling challenges, but both the law school and hockey program were first class in making everything work. I don't think I was treated any differently by my fellow law students or professors during the year. Some of them were curious on how I was able to manage to do both or where I was over the weekend, but other than that I was just another 1L.
Q: What is your favorite law school moment so far?
A: From an academic standpoint, my favorite law school moment thus far was being accepted in the Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute. Overall though, my favorite memory is being able to go through the whole law school process with one of my best friends. He and I went to Suffolk University together and now we share a lifetime of memories of getting through our first year of law school together.
Q: What are your plans after law school? Is there a type of law you hope to practice?
A: After law school, I hope to work for a professional hockey franchise. Being a general manager would be my dream job. Also, being General Counsel for a hockey team is something I am aspiring to be. With that in mind, I plan to focus more on civil law and litigating in civil suits.
Q: What do you think is the biggest legal issue in hockey today?
A: Concussions are definitely a source of future litigation that need to be addressed. It's not only hockey that needs to solidify this issue and take steps to solving this problem. All contact sports need to figure out a way to best protect their players to ensure they have a healthy and comfortable life after their athletic career.
Q: What city would you like to see the NHL expand to next? Why?
A: I think Seattle would be a perfect fit for a NHL franchise for a few reasons. Seattle was actually the home of the first ever American team to win the Stanley Cup with the Seattle Metropolitans. Also, putting a team in Seattle would balance the Western and Eastern conferences with 16 teams each. To me, Seattle needs another professional franchise and I believe a NHL team would fill that void and some. When the NHL has an opportunity to expand to a city where there is already hockey history, it is a win for the NHL, the players, and the fans.
Q: Who is the best Pittsburgh Penguin of all-time?
A: I would have to say Mario Lemieux is the best Pittsburgh Penguin of all-time. There are so many great Penguins over the years such as Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin etc. but, Lemieux is the one that really sticks out. He was an unbelievable talent on the ice, but he is equally as important, if not more important, off the ice as an owner. He made many sacrifices to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh, and he is one of the main reasons Pittsburgh has turned into a hockey hot-bed of young talent.