Former Boston Mayor and U.S. Labor Secretary Details Career Journey

Marty Walsh 1 Image by Ed Brennen
Marty Walsh, second to right, talks with student-athletes, from left, Luka Marceau, Michael Makiej and Owen Fowler, far right.

By Brooke Coupal

Marty Walsh, the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) executive director, had a message for students during a recent visit to UMass Lowell.

“You have no idea where you’re going to end up in life,” he said. “If you told me (while I was in college) that I would end up being a mayor of Boston, labor secretary and work for the NHLPA, I would have told you that I want to run for mayor of Boston, but I didn’t have a plan for after that. It was really just amazing opportunities.”

Walsh discussed his career path from politics to sports as part of the Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Dean's Speaker Series. The event, which was held at Alumni Hall on Jan. 30, was presented by the university’s Sports Collaborative for Open Research and Education (SCORE).

Student-athletes Michael Makiej, Owen Fowler and Luka Marceau directed questions to Walsh as part of a panel.

“Being able to interview him was incredible,” says Marceau, a first-year business major from Newton, Massachusetts, and a member of the women’s soccer team.

Walsh shared with the crowd that his interest in politics began at an early age.

Marty Walsh 2 Image by Ed Brennen
Senior Michael Makiej, center, asks Marty Walsh a question.

“My uncle was head of the laborers’ union in Boston, and I was always around political campaigns,” he said. “I just got the bug … and I knew someday that I was going to run for office.”

Walsh, who grew up in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, made it his goal to become the mayor of the city, which he accomplished in 2014. During his seven years in office, he had many interactions with New England sports teams, from helping plan championship parades to interacting with players as they supported Boston organizations.

“I learned that politics and sports have a lot more intersections than I thought,” says Makiej, a senior philosophy and political science major from Andover, Massachusetts. He is also a high jumper on the track and field team.

In 2021, President Joe Biden selected Walsh to serve as the United States’ labor secretary, making him the first union member in 45 years to lead the Department of Labor (Walsh joined the Laborers’ Union Local 223 in 1988 while working in construction). That same year, Major League Baseball entered a lockout amid failed collective bargaining negotiations between the league and the MLB Players Association. Walsh briefed Biden on the situation and met with MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred Jr. and Boston Red Sox President and CEO Sam Kennedy over dinner to encourage both sides to get a deal done.

“That opened the door to what a players association is for me,” says Walsh, who, eight months later, got a call about an opportunity to head the NHLPA.

“I went through the (interview) process, and they selected me to be the executive director. I wasn’t looking for it; it kind of just happened,” he said.

Marty Walsh 3 Image by Ed Brennen
Students in the audience participate in the conversation with Marty Walsh.

In this new role, which he began in February 2023, Walsh represents roughly 750 professional hockey players, ensuring that they have good contracts, health care and other benefits. Walsh says he makes it a point to get to know the players and has even given out his cellphone number to several of them so they can stay in contact.

I’ve had the same number for 25 years,” he said. “The whole world has my cellphone number at this point. It’s important to have that personal connection.”

This lesson resonated with Fowler, a sophomore business major from Tewksbury, Massachusetts, who plays on the hockey team.

“I’m taking away from him that you want to be very approachable with people, and meeting him today, he seems very easy to talk to,” he says.

Walsh says people often ask him what the future holds and if he will get back into politics. His answer: “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

“Right now, I’m going to be the best I can be at this job to represent the players that I represent in a sport that I love,” he said. “I live my life a day at a time.”