Eliminating Organizational Sport Checks and Balances to Promote Societal Change

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By Barry Person, Jr.

The current demand for civil and social justice has never been higher nor more justified. One of the driving forces behind the active and hopefully push towards societal change is sport. Athletes of all genders, sexual orientations, performance levels, and sports continue to speak out regarding the need for reform, joining them in these efforts are many sporting organizations as well. However, what is missing from these calls for justice is the fact that until we see these changes within sporting organizations, society itself will continue to lag behind. For sport is the ultimate microcosm of society and much of how we here in North America function is driven by what we see in sport. Cooper, Macaulay, and Rodriguez (2019) supported this claim stating that the institution of sport does not operate in isolation from broader society. Instead sport serves as a site where societal inequities such as racism, sexism, economic stratification, and other forms of oppression are reproduced, exacerbated, and/or ignored (Cooper, Macaulay, & Rodriguez, 2019). While sport itself is not geared to be systematically racist, the consistent organizational practices and regulations (checks and balances) uphold various restrictions to equality. This essay will take a look at the recent attention given to Mike Gundy, the Rooney Rule, and NASCAR, to highlight how to really change society we must first change sport itself.

Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy has taken on some heat lately for being caught in a photo wearing an OAN network t-shirt. Almost immediately upon being discovered, Oklahoma State star running back Chuba Hubbard spoke out against the image. Now, it has come to light the potential use of the N word by Gundy during a football game back in 1989. While Gundy remains on his image restoration path, he also still holds his job and support of his athletic administration and football team. While Gundy states his regrets and vows to provide positive change, the real message is being missed. The fact at any point that a leader of a diverse sporting organization would feel comfortable to use such language and/or wear such potentially offensive attire is the true issue. Let us not forget back in 2007, Mike Gundy is the same coach who went on a tirade during a press conference ripping the media for writing articles which attacked his players. Worth noting is that his response was driven by the attention drawn to the article by a parent of one of the football athletes. Also, worth noting is that within that press conference Gundy demands that if the media were to come after anyone, they should come after him because he is a man and that such articles are what’s wrong with society today. Funny how the tide has turned as Gundy now has to call upon the same players he once stood up for, in order to be saved from the very things he demanded be turned his way. Now that the tables have turned, why is the true manly thing to do (stepping down) not being put on the table by Gundy himself, or his administration? Many will state because of the money pulled in by the football program, but in reality, it is the structure of the sporting system. The checks and balances of sport strongly support the blind following of fault and regret of coaches by star athletes who seldom look like their coach, given that ultimately it is the coach who holds the power. Instead of battling and sustaining power within the coaching athlete relationship, why not just key in on doing what is right or should we say the manly/womanly thing to do (take accountability and remove yourself).

Continuing on with coaching and football one cannot ignore the recent amendments and rejections of the NFL’s Rooney Rule. In May, the NFL expanded the guidelines of the Rooney Rule to require all teams to now include more interviews of minority candidates for coaching, senior football operations, and general manager vacancies. The idea to improve draft positioning or total picks for the hiring of minority candidates for these positions, was also discussed but ultimately rejected and rightfully so. While the advancement of potential opportunities for minority coaching and leadership positions within the NFL is overall a positive thing, such rules in any organization further illustrate the inherent checks and balances with sport. The need to require any organization to merely interview minorities is a travesty, such things should just be normal practice. Brighter alternatives to these practices are not rooted in racism or even disrespect but yet again administrative power. African Americans have been withheld from holding coaching and higher administrative positions simply because it would upend the checks and balances put in place. The check is to make sure that players stay in their lane and continue to focus on playing the sport, while the balance is to make sure that those who most often times do not look like the majority of athletes are given oversight. The need for diversity and equality within sporting administration should not be labeled by administrative rules as if things are to be done out of pity and/or submission, but instead initiatives should be done to show and express unity amongst all who contribute to sport. As long as the imagery remains that minority hires, interviews, and opportunities are merely suggested proper practice over actual willingness, the suppressive checks and balances of sport will continue to prevail.

On my final lap around the track, I cannot pass on the opportunity to address the recent Confederate flag ban by NASCAR. First, I must admit that never in my wildest imagination did I see this moment coming, even as a completely uninterested NASCAR fan to begin with. However, to see the ultimate sport check and balance come crashing down does provide a clear vision as to how sport can right itself and society at the same time. I will not waste time to discuss the stereotypes of the typical NASCAR fan prior to this ruling, as that is what the internet is for. However, I will discuss the potential future of the new NASCAR moving forward. For the new NASCAR has the opportunity to be the shining star of the power and potential sport has to promote diversity, unity, and justice. NASCAR for the longest time has been dominated by one particular grouping of individuals from fan, driver, owner, and employee. And at no time was this norm ever questioned, which was made even more evident by the religious flying of the Confederate flag in some fashion during any and all events. While the eternal debate of what the Confederate flag represents might never end, I will take the higher road and assume that we can all intellectually agree on the sour roots that the flag is best associated with. The Confederate flag and NASCAR of old, in relation to sport checks and balances was quite clear: enter at your own risk. That was until Bubba Wallace spoke up as the first full-time African American stock car racer on the injustice of the checks and balances within NASCAR. The trick now is getting society to give the same love to NASCAR as it does its other leagues. NASCAR has struggled with viewership as of late but this can and should quickly change, given its attempt to join mainstream sport society. As more minority and non-stereotypical NASCAR fans begin to express interest and support for the sport the more the call for the removal of the Confederate flag will be valued by society at large.

Sport has the unique ability to serve as a universal language across the globe. But the language of sport is strongest here in North America, the same country in which the call for social and racial reform is also the loudest. The problem is that the language of sport in North America is one that currently supports the restriction and classification of African Americans through its institutional checks and balances. Checks and balances that allow Mike Gundy, Drew Brees, Curt Schilling, and Kyle Larson to openly express opinions on anything without the fear of their careers ending, unlike their minority counterparts (Colin Kaepernick). Yet while athletes of all races have spoken out and vow to fight for change, it is sport itself which we must change for these proclamations to become a reality. Removing the checks and balances which silently hold the racial rank and order of sporting organization structure, is the most prominent way for America to hear the societal demand that enough is enough. Until sport embraces equality for all at every level of its organizations, then the reminder to society to continue to hold on to what has worked in the past will remain.

References
Cooper, J. N., Macaulay, C., & Rodriguez, S. H. (2019). Race and resistence: A typology of African American sport activism. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 54 (2), 151-181. doi: 10.1177/1012690217718170.

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Barry Person Jr.
Assistant Professor
Sport and Recreation Management
SUNY Delhi
personbb@delhi.edu 

Considering Taking Up A Cause? Here are some lessons

When American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos experienced and observed the plight of Black Americans, they knew they had to do something. So, on October 16, 1968, Smith and Carlos, winning gold and bronze in the men’s 200 meters, respectively, each wore black socks without shoes to the medal podium. They proceeded to extend one black-gloved fist over their bowed heads during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the U.S. “The boos were about as profound as the silence was when we raised our fists and bowed our heads in prayer,” Smith recalled (Zacardi, 2018, para. 36).

Disruption is hard. Some people succeed, able to transform their organizations or institutions in which they operate. Others are not so effective, incapable of unsettling the current situation that exists within their environment. One reason for such “failure” is because people often tend to oppose change that disrupts the status quo. We saw this in 1968. Interested in this story of disruption, we recently set out to better understand this essential yet poorly understood aspect of social change. We gathered and analyzed interviews with 59 members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team concerning their reactions (see Agyemang, Berg, & Fuller, 2018).

In general, and as you may imagine, Smith and Carlos’ teammates did not approve of the protest. Based on the interviews, we identified four main reasons why teammates disliked their activism: (1) the sacred spirit of competition should supersede all else; (2) the Olympics should be apolitical; (3) the Olympics should be cherished as an entertainment spectacle; and (4) nationalism and representing the U.S. team is more important than any sociopolitical viewpoint. Building on this and other research, I address the following question: how do change leaders harness and manage the negative perceptions they encounter concerning their disruptive activity? Here are some takeaways and how they may apply to people working for change:

Become an expert in the area which you seek social change.

At the end of the day, change leaders cannot force people to believe in the same social causes they do. This is why people working for social change should focus on the things they can control. One way is to be an expert in the area in which you intend to disrupt and desire social change. Occasionally groups resisting may lack essential information and not understand the social cause. In other cases, those opposing the social change frequently attempt to obscure a change leader’s message. Based on reading and observation, sometimes this is easier to do because change leaders do not fully understand what they’re doing. As a result, they are unable to generate empathy from the broader public because their message is unclear. For instance, Colin Kaepernick said that he had considered taking a stand for a while, but before he did, he wanted to make sure he was well read on the subject matter. Though he has faced criticism for his actions and his beliefs, it is clear he is strong in his convictions and is able to back them up given his understanding of the issues.

Not all causes are seen the same.

In 2016, I spoke with a renowned sports journalist about the current wave of athlete protests. Comparing the likes of LeBron James to Colin Kaepernick, the journalist noted how there is a fundamental difference between calling for an end to gun violence (i.e., James at ESPY Awards) and calling for systemic change to social institutions that have historically wronged racial and ethnic minorities. He contended that the former is much more likely to gain consensus (or at least close to it) from the public than the latter, which is much more divisive. Regarding the latter, opposition may even dispute the social issue even exist. The biggest challenge here is to articulate how and why the change you are calling for will benefit those who are not yet onboard. Human nature is to operate from a “what’s in it for me?” mentality. If change leaders desire commitment from others, they should consider what these groups want and need.

Anticipate resistance.

Related to the point above, I think one of the more obvious takeaways is that change leaders should always anticipate resistance. This occurs for many reasons, including dominant groups are more prone to uphold the status quo and not champion change, because they benefit from societal norms. Contrasting to that, peripheral actors who are often less privileged members of society and are less favored by the status quo are more to desire change. We saw this in 1968 during Smith and Carlos’ time, and we see similar scenes today. For example, Colin Kaepernick’s silent gestures beginning in 2016 has received backlash both for his tactics (i.e., kneeling during the national anthem) and the causes he’s bringing attention to (i.e., police brutality against Black people).

Embrace the challenge.

Sure, people resisting a social cause you believe strongly in can be a frustrating and oftentimes agonizing experience. However, as cliché as it may be, it is important for change leaders to not withdraw from the resistance, but embrace it. One piece of advice I received was to think of resistance as strength training. We use resistance (e.g., dumbbells) to build muscle and endurance so that we can gain strength. The same could be said for the opposition change leaders face when attempting to bring attention to a social cause. So, keenly listen. Attempt to understand why they are resisting. This seems to be a lost art in today’s divided political climate. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to concur with every single criticism; but listening to opposition criticisms can open your eyes to blind spots you may have not considered, and serve to ultimately strengthen your cause when you respond to these blind spots.

Social position matters.

A person’s social position is based on various social groups they belong to (e.g., profession, gender, race, culture, relationships) and provides them consent to perform certain actions and enter certain spaces. One of the more interesting observations from the study is that Smith and Carlos’ protest may have been viewed differently if they had the support of their teammates and people in positions of power. Based on this, it would behoove change leaders to seek ties with people with access to resources and “clout” they need to make change. For instance, recently, professional athletes have established relationships and met with Congressional leaders about issues related to race and policing, among others. These relationships could provide your change effort more legitimacy.

Final remarks

When we consider what is necessary for social change to take place, it regularly demands some type of disruptive act. Change leaders can play an integral role in this process. The challenge is this is often complex, and will often entail resistance to both the change and the tactics a change leader will use. Yet, I’m reminded of what John Carlos recently told me: If anyone ever calls you a troublemaker, rest assured you’re in damn good company. Don’t let them [opposition] intimidate you and scare you away from doing what you feel is right.”

Click here for full research article in Journal of Sport Management Vol. 32, Issue 6.

 

 

Author note: another version of this blog appears at: https://kwameagyemang.com/considering-taking-up-a-cause/

Agyemang, K. J. A., Berg, B. K., & Fuller, R. D. (2018). Disrupting the disruptor: Perceptions as institutional maintenance work at the 1968 Olympic Games. Journal of Sport Management, 32(6), 567-580.

Zacardi, N. (2018, October 3). Tommie Smith, John Carlos remember Olympic protest on 50th anniversary. NBC Sports. Retrieved from https://olympics.nbcsports.com/2018/10/03/tommie-smith-john-carlos-black-power-salute/

Preparing Consciously and Socially Aware Students: The Benefit of a Diversity in Sport Club

by Ben PereiraFlorida State University, MS, Sport Management, ‘18, University of Massachusetts Amherst, BS Sport Management, ‘17

The industry of sport lacks diversity, and that’s not a radical claim. The executive offices and top positions in athletic departments are overwhelmingly likely to be run by males, typically white. For example, in NCAA Division I programs, only 12% of Athletic Directors are female, and it is not due to a lack of qualified applicants. For persons of color in sport, they are often type-casted into certain roles, mainly with athlete management or recruitment. In the NCAA, 87.5% of athletic directors are white. Shockingly, this year, Florida State University became the only institution with a black director of athletics, black head men’s basketball coach, and black head football coach.

I’ve spoken to many of my peers about the discrimination they experience in and outside the classroom. Female students have told me they choose not to speak up in class due to fears of not being taken seriously. LGBT students comment on the ignorant statements made by their peers when sexuality in sport comes up in discussion. Students of color complained of feeling isolated and tokenized as the sole or one of a few students of color in a field still dominated by those of Caucasian descent. Sport management programs serve as the pipeline to the industry, and the culture change needs to start within our own institutions.

Issues related to sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other discriminatory behavior need to be addressed before students start their careers in this industry. We are doing a disservice to our minority students if we allow them to graduate with ignorance towards the discrimination they’re likely to encounter and with no awareness of their legal rights and how to combat it. For our students who are not minorities, it is just important for them to be apart of the conversation because they hold a responsibility to change the industry for the better as well. If we allow for areas where students can have open and honest discussions on the issue, where common empathy can be shared, then we’d be graduating a cohort of consciously and socially aware students ready to change the industry for the better.

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This past year, I started the Foundation for Diversity and Inclusion in Sport (FDIS) at Florida State University. The organization is based on a club I served as Vice President of at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Association of Diversity in Sport. A core goal of FDIS is to hold events related to diversity and inclusion in sport. The mission of FDIS is to create a space where a group of students who see both the ethical and fiscal responsibility a diverse organization holds, are impassioned to enact change. A place where students can come, feel welcome, to aspire and connect with peers, as well as hear from distinguished sport professionals, on how to succeed in the industry regardless of your race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

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During the Spring of 2018, my team of fellow students and I were able to recruit distinguished sport professionals, who come from diverse backgrounds, to talk about their career trajectory and some of the obstacles they’ve encountered throughout their careers based on their minority status. Some of our speakers included: the University of Virginia’s Athletic Director, and first African American Female AD of a Power 5 school, Dr. Carla Williams; and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Sr. VP and Chief Legal Officer, Megha Parekh. We were able to recruit top caliber speakers, only paying for travel expenses, because our speakers understood the importance of the conversations we were having.

NCAA Inclusion Forum

FDIS has only existed for one semester, but our work has been profound. Our organization received a $1,000 grant from the President of the university, press coverage from our local ABC News and NPR affiliates, and a write-up from OutSports. Our events were attended by students from all walks of life, faculty (both sport management and non-sport management), local sport professionals, and members of Florida State’s athletic department. Our events have featured speakers talking about their sexuality in a public presence for the first time, talking about instances of sexism that brought them to tears, and racial profiling in the application process.

These conversations are not easy to have. But it is imperative for our growth as an industry to have them now, before our students enter the field.

If you’re a sport educator, a club like FDIS might be a worthwhile addition to your program. Consider how you’re talking about issues related to racism, sexism, and homophobia in sport. Have these conversations with your students in the classroom, consider adding a “diversity in sport” course into your curriculum. Sport management programs serve as the pipeline to the industry. Let’s make sure our students are aware of the issues their peers will face, and aware of the fiscal and ethical benefits of a diverse workplace so they can ready to be the change the industry needs.

If you’re interested in chartering an organization like FDIS on your campus, email FDIS.FSU@gmail.com for tips on how to get started.

Issues: Discussing Diversity

Discussing Diversity at NASSM 2018

by Kristy McCray, Co-Chair, NASSM Diversity Committee

In today’s political and social climate, it is increasingly important to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion. This is particularly true in sport, as issues related to diversity intersect at every level of sport participation. Even a cursory glance at the front-page headlines shows that diversity and social justice issues are everywhere in sport.

Just recently, we’ve seen two NBA teams seriously considering a woman, Becky Hammon, as their next head coach, which would earn her another ‘historic first’ title. We’ve also seen the announcement of a $500 million settlement in the Larry Nassar sexual assault case. Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed because of his protests. One of the largest sporting events on the planet, the World Cup, is being held despite the anti-LGBTQ policies of the host nation, Russia. In short, issues of diversity and inclusion are everywhere!

Thus, in the context of sport, it is critical to continue having important discussions about the role of diversity and inclusion. People, organizations, and public policy all have roles to play in the development of a more inclusive sport landscape. Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela famously acknowledged the power of sport to transcend human difference and bring people together.

From an organizational standpoint, diversity is related to improved performance and creativity. Further, sport consumers come from all walks of life. Thus, increased attention on the ways that we create inclusive sport and physical activity environments is good for both the consumer and organizations’ bottom lines.

The NASSM Diversity Committee provides a number of resources for those interested in diversity issues in sport. At this year’s conference, there are several opportunities to meet and discuss diversity-related issues with your NASSM colleagues, including:

Diversity Breakfast – Saturday, June 9th – 7:00 AM

Come enjoy a free breakfast with the Diversity Committee! This informal gathering is a great place to meet and connect with others interested in diversity and inclusion as it relates to research, teaching, service, and more. (Nova Scotia D)

Workshops sponsored by the NASSM Diversity Committee

Saturday, June 9th – 11:00 AM
The Consistently Diverse Institutional Stakeholder’s Devotion to Diversity and Inclusion: A NASSM Diversity Committee Sponsored Workshop (Acadia B)

This workshop will discuss the role of diversity and inclusion policies in Sport Management university programs. In particular, the breakout sessions will discuss strategic management of diversity and the role of faculty and administration in promoting inclusion across campuses.

Breaking Down Silos: A Professional Development Workshop on Methodological Diversity in Sport Management Research (Sable B)

This workshop will discuss the increasingly segmented research landscape in Sport Management and encourage attendees to explore new ways of approaching their research work. Top researchers in the field will lead small group discussions and answer attendee questions related to research methods.

The Diversity Committee also maintains several resources for those interested in various issues related to diversity in sport.

Diversity Resources

List of Diversity Related Presentations at NASSM 2018. This list was compiled by a keyword search for “diversity” in the program, plus includes any presentation (keyword diversity or not) with an author from the Diversity Committee’s self-identified list of Diversity Scholars.

List of Diversity Scholars in Sport Management. The Diversity Scholars are self-identified. Please contact Kristy McCray to be added to the list or have your information updated.