By Richard E. Lapchick*

 March 11, 2016

 There is something about sport.

I learned the power of sport to affect positive social change as a child.

As a five-year-old boy I saw angry racists verbally attack my father because as the Coach of the Knicks he signed the first African-American to play in the NBA.

Two decades later I was attacked in my college office for leading the sports boycott of South Africa.  I had liver damage, kidney damage, a hernia, a concussion, and the N-word carved in my stomach with a pair of officer scissors.

If people were willing to go to those lengths to try to stop my father and later me, they must have been desperate and thought that what we were doing with the sports platform was important.

Over the years we have seen lots of lessons from sports and athletes.

Most recently, occasional stories about ties of sport to the nightmare of human trafficking have continued to open America’s eyes to the fact that human trafficking is extensive in the United States and has been reported in all 50 states.  This blog is being written in advance of the extensive programming planned for Villanova during the week of March 14-18, 2016 as part of the Shut Out Trafficking Program.

So sport can help illuminate our problems.  It can also help us heal after tragedy.

Almost all of America became New York Yankees fans when the Yankees played the Diamondbacks in the World Series at Yankee Stadium one month after 9/11.  Virginia Tech’s baseball stadium was filled on the Friday night after the shootings that took 32 lives on that campus.  In both cases people turned to baseball in the wish that life could be resumed as normal and we could rally around our hometown teams as sources of hope.

When the Japanese women were fighting the American women for the World Cup several years ago, my wife Ann and I were cheering for the American women.  But when the Japanese won we both turned to each other with tears in our eyes because we knew how important it was for the Japanese people to have that source of jubilation and pride after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that took place in their country in 2011.

After being in Tuscaloosa, Alabama helping to rebuild after the 2011 tornado ripped a wide path through the area, I found myself rooting for Alabama Crimson Tide to win the national championship because I knew what it would mean for the community.

Ask the people of New Orleans and they will tell you that they had no better day than when the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010 some five years after Hurricane Katrina decimated their city.

Sports can help change society.  Think Jackie Robinson or Billie Jean King.  Think of how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali confront the growing anti-Muslim wave of hate in America to be living symbols that Islam is a religion of peace and only a small number of Muslims globally are hateful.

Perhaps the most important thing is sports can help us learn about teamwork.  My good friend and former coach Bill Curry calls the “huddle” the miracle of sport.  In the huddle, it suddenly does not matter if you are African-American, Latino, white, Arab American, Asian-American or Native American.  It does not matter if you are Protestant, Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu or Sikh.  It does not matter if you are rich or poor.  It does not matter if you are gay or straight.  The team cannot win if you do not all pull together.  Imagine if we brought the huddle to our institutions of higher education, to corporate America, or to our religious institutions. What a better world it would be.

Sports can help us learn about teamwork.  Sports can help us learn about and confront social issues.  Sport can help us be healed after tragedy.  Sport can help us be inspired and change our society for the better.

There is something about sport and we can apply these principles to any part of our society.  We can help young people believe in what they cannot see as a result of sport and the platform it brings us.

Perhaps the greatest power of sports story for me was when I attended the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the new president of South Africa in May of 1994.

After it was over, he did not go to any of the parties in Pretoria that were being held in his honor. Instead he got on a helicopter and went back to Johannesburg to attend the Zambia vs. South Africa soccer match.  He asked me to sit in the box with him.  I asked him, “Mr. President.  With all those parties being held in your honor, why did you come here?”

He responded that, “I did not want there to be any doubt that I understood that I was freed from prison sooner than I would have been and became president sooner than I would have because of the sacrifices our athletes made during the sports boycott.”  It was the ultimate power of sports story.  There are so many other great ones.


* Richard E. Lapchick is the Chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of 16 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card, and is the Director of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport. He is a regular commentator on issues of diversity in sport on ESPN.com. Representing the NCAS and in partnership with the US Fund for UNICEF, Lapchick will be part of a week of activities (March 14-18, 2016) at Villanova for Shut Out Trafficking, an awareness raising program using the sports platform to educate about the issue of human trafficking.

Editor’s Note: 

Villanova Athletics is set to host a “Shut Out Trafficking” (SOT) week of advocacy, in conjunction with the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS) and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s End Trafficking Program, on campus at Villanova University during the week of March 14, 2016. This week of advocacy will bring together the entire campus community and will highlight the human rights issue of human trafficking. Villanova Athletics will partner with the following campus centers, in a cross-curricular coalition to bring awareness and educational programming to our students, staff and faculty: Villanova University’s Center for Peace and Justice Education, Villanova University’s Charles Widger Law School Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation and The Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law.

 Villanova Athletics is one of eight member schools of the NCAS who have hosted or will be hosting SOT Weeks on their campuses during the 2015-16 academic year. Villanova Athletics has been a member institution of the NCAS since 2000.  For more information, please contact: Allison Venella, Director of Student-Athlete Development.

 

 

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