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Michigan State University

Harold Henderson, Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient


Harold Henderson, Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

B.A. College of Social Science, 1972; J.D. Harvard Law School, 1976; SEP Stanford School of Business, 1988

Distinguished Alumni: Presented to alumni who have differentiated themselves by obtaining the highest level of professional accomplishment in their field.  

He is the retired NFL Executive Vice President, former Chief Legal Officer, a long-time advocate for underserved communities, and a Spartan.

Harold Henderson’s extraordinary career was full of unexpected twists and seized opportunities. Throughout his life, Henderson remained open-minded as he sought opportunities that aligned with his core values of compassion, honesty and fairness. His personal and professional experiences fostered an interest in labor and employee relations and a desire to improve relations between employees and management. His many professional achievements include negotiating labor agreements in the railroad and professional football businesses which forever changed those industries. He also served as a board member of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO), the president and chair of NFL Player Care Foundation and a chairperson of seven Taft-Hartley player employee benefits trusts. 

During his time at MSU Henderson experienced the world of public service and labor relations. He served in the Army while completing his degree and became the first Black police officer at MSU. His ongoing interest in labor relations led him to pursue law school, after which he worked at a major national labor law firm, served as Chief Legal Officer at AMTRAK and then as the Executive Vice President for Labor Relations and Chairman of the Management Council Executive Committee for the National Football League (NFL).

At the NFL, Harold ushered the organization through several significant transformations. He developed programs that helped players get acclimated to the league, understand finances, continue their education, and prepare for careers after football. Following a failed strike by the players and years of litigation, Harold led the NFL to industry-changing agreements which included a salary cap, free agency, and a wage scale. The new agreement, together with a healthy working relationship with the players union, led to fiscal stability for the league and unprecedented labor peace for the next thirty years, paving the way for phenomenal growth in revenue and popularity.  Henderson established programs to prepare young men for life in and after professional football, including degree completion, career planning, financial planning, and good citizenship. His legacy with the NFL made the organization stronger and positioned it as a role model for other organizations.

Currently, Henderson serves on the board of directors of the Council on Legal Education Opportunities, Inc., (CLEO) whose mission is to expand opportunities for minority and low-income students to attend and complete law school. Additionally, Harold and his wife, Franzine, established the Henderson Judicial Clerkship Mentoring Program at MSU Law which encourages students of color to pursue judicial clerkships, which significantly enhances opportunities for success and advancement in a profession that significantly under-represents minorities.

“Have a plan for your career, but also be prepared to take advantage of unanticipated opportunities. That’s the story of my life.” 

Who will persevere? Spartans Will.  


Author: Aimee Klevorn
Contributing Writer(s): Zach Komorowski