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THE POWER OF DIVERSITY IN SPORTS

• Published on 31 Jul. 2015 • Category :Sport • Tags : 2015

THE POWER OF DIVERSITY IN SPORTS

Powered by: Richard Lapchick, Chair of DeVos Sport Business Management Program and Director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, University of Central Florida, United States

Panelists:

Judy Sweet, Title IX Consultant and Speaker, Co-Founder of Alliance of Women Coaches, NCAAS Membership President 1991-92, United States

Delise O’Meally, Executive Director, National Consortium for Academics and Sports, United States

April Holmes, Paralympic Gold Medalist, Best-Selling Author, Motivational Speaker, United States

Jason Collins, former Professional Basketball Player, NBA Cares Ambassador, United States

In a poignant and moving session, Richard Lapchick and his guests discussed how sport can be used as a force for good in helping people overcome physical, racial, sexual or gender-related obstacles.

But while tremendous strides have been made in recent years, the scope for improving acceptance and diversity in sport remains significant.

The need for role models, pioneers, trail-blazers and mentors is vital in helping minorities thrive in the sporting world – a thought echoed by former professional basketball player Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay athlete to play in any of North America’s four major professional sports leagues.

“A role model of mine was Martina Navratilova because she was an out and proud athlete who kicked butt,” said Collins. “When we have trail-blazers, we have to celebrate them.”

Judy Sweet, Co-Founder of Alliance of Women Coaches, agreed, but warned that finding role models in women’s sport represented a major challenge these days.

Sweet highlighted the fact that less than 40% of women’s teams were now coached by women compared to 90% in 1972, while the number of female assistant coaches has dipped below 50% for the first time.

Despite these gloomy statistics, Sweet urged women not to be deterred – she decided to fight for change after realizing her university had no female athletics program.

“I loved sports all my life, I participated in sports all my life, but I had to create my own opportunities, and that was the fuel that suggested to me that things needed to change,” she told the audience. 

As far as role models go, it was hard to look beyond her fellow speaker, the Paralympic gold medalist and best-selling author April Holmes.

Holmes lost part of her left leg in a train accident in 2001, and it was while she was in hospital that she heard of the Paralympics from a doctor treating her.

Now, having won medals in three separate Paralympic Games and with a fourth on the horizon, Holmes’ story serves as an inspiration to many.

“To go from able-bodied in the morning to an amputee in the evening, to searching for my identity the next day, was a very devastating and challenging situation,” she conceded. “But you can still go forth and do great things.”

Sports has served as a catalyst to many to go on and do just that, and Delise O’Meally, Executive Director of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports, is a prime example.

After moving from Jamaica in the late 1980s, she was able to use her ability as a tennis player to forge a career.

O’Meally now employs sports to bring about change in a wide range of fields. “We use sport to advance critical social justice agendas, like inclusion, diversity, prevention of violence to women, and human trafficking,” she said.

But O’Meally also warned against resting on their laurels, citing the statistic that the number of black women in leadership roles in sports has been stagnant for the past 20 years and insisting that it had to change.

To round off an emotional discussion, both O’Meally and Sweet touchingly offered their services as mentors to members of the audience who felt they needed guidance to achieve their goals.


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