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/

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.

Knowledge is Power: How Can We Contribute to Social Justice in Divisive Times?

Editors’ note: The following post is intended to be a conversation starter amongst NASSM members and blog readers regarding this timely sport issue. We strongly encourage readers to contribute to a thoughtful and respectful dialogue on this topic by writing your comments on this post. Please check back often to view additional comments and responses!

Christine E. Wegner, Ph.D. – University of Florida
John N. Singer, Ph.D. – Texas A & M University

redskins-protest-signsThe year 2016 has seen a number of events and incidents in organized sport that speak to social injustices in the United States in particular, from Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the systemic racism within the criminal justice system, to the reactions of both the NBA and the NCAA in the wake of North Carolina’s Hb2 law. As more and more perspectives join the conversation about social justice, we should be reminded of George Cunningham’s 2014 Zeigler lecture, calling for ways to support and create social justice both through and in sport. Given the increasing gravity of recent events, sport management scholars and researchers need to become part of the current conversation, offering their knowledge to the intersection between sport and social justice, through immediate action in the community.

We are quick to recall the importance of sport in our lives when we seek to justify our existence as a field. Therefore, when this importance serves as a platform for fighting injustice, we owe it to ourselves to reinforce that platform, a charge we too often have left to sport sociologists. As Wendy Frisby suggested in her 2005 Ziegler lecture, sport management, with a unit of analysis as the organization, can be an important part of the ongoing dialogue. What is happening today is such a force, in part, because of the power of organizations, and specifically the power of organizing in sport. We therefore must find new modes through which to engage with and contribute to the current conversation.

john_carlos_tommie_smith_peter_norman_1968cr

In in a keynote address at the 2016 North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) Conference, Harry Edwards talked about the critical difference for scholars and researchers engaging with the activism of athletes in the 1960s and those of today. The pace of the 24-hour news cycle and the actions and perspectives created constantly through social media outlets shrink the temporal window for current scholars and researchers. Writing journal articles about today’s climate, attitudes, and actions are a vital reflection of process, change, and social inquiry. However, those articles, whose contributions are slowed by the submission process, can rarely ever be part of the current dialogue, the crucial discourse that is so fundamental to progress and social change.

Discourse can be hard. It can be painful. It can force us to reflect on our privilege. Our failings. Our humanity and lack thereof. But it is necessary. In a world where ignorance has found a powerful faucet in social media, we as individuals who know history, politics and theory, owe it to the future that we teach to be a part of the immediate discourse as well, and to counter some of this ignorance.

Just as the events of the past few months and even weeks have no doubt found their way into classroom discourse as teachable moments and opportunities for dialogue, we need to continually find ways to engage in the current climate in real time. For example, Joseph Cooper’s Collective Uplift at the University of Connecticut, works to educate and empower student athletes of color directly.  As another example, organizations such as RISE combine managers, athletes, activists, and educators in its efforts toward social progress. And many programs and organizations already rely on our expertise as researchers to assess both their efficacy and understand the sources of change.

icant-breatheBut this is more than a call to join in these efforts.  We also hope to start a dialogue about innovative ways we can be a part of the social justice movement, especially in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign and U.S. election, which has left many emboldened to openly discriminate, and others in fear of their rights and lives. Where are the spaces and opportunities in which we can insert ourselves into the national and international conversation, given the role of sport and sport organizations in our world today? How can we incorporate collective action into our research to make it meaningful immediately, in addition to the knowledge it generates through our studies, manuscripts, and conference presentations?

Please join the conversation and post your thoughts on this topic below!