Category Archives: Minorities in Sports

#SayNoToRacism #Emphatically

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Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson and GM Danny Ferry. Photo: New York Times

Racism is a hot topic in our sports nation these days with former Clippers owner Donald Sterling and now Hawks owner Bruce Levenson and GM Danny Ferry coming under fire for racist remarks.   As a black businesswoman myself, I personally find Donald Sterling and Danny Ferry’s comments and prejudices deplorable, while I do not find Levenson’s words to be nearly as reprehensible as the others’. The difference? Both Sterling and Ferry made overwhelmingly derogatory statements that insulted and devalued blacks as a whole while also making egregious and erroneous attacks on two exemplary members of the black community. For Donald Sterling to say that Magic Johnson “doesn’t do anything” for black people–a man who has single-handedly transformed black communities and created jobs to propel them forward through real estate investments and movie theater and restaurant ownership– is simply ignorant. Danny Ferry was equally as ignorant, completely degrading African culture and slandering the character of a man who has not been associated with troublemaking or wrongdoing and whose foundation has impacted the lives of children on three different continents. 

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Magic Johnson Enterprises serves as a catalyst for driving unparalleled business results for our partners and fostering community/economic empowerment by making available high-quality entertainment, products and services that answer the demands of ethnically diverse urban communities. Photo: Elite Daily
The Luol Deng Foundation uses basketball as tool to give hope to those in Africa, USA and the UK. Photo: Luol Deng Foundation

Levenson, on the other hand, was coming from a very different place. While his comments certainly did reflect stereotypes and generalizations that can also be labeled “ignorant,” his intention was to diagnose the lack of diversity in Phillips Arena. Strictly business, I dare say. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put it this way:

“Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in the seats. In the e-mail, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations), the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90 percent blacks, kiss cam focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans. … Seems reasonable to ask those questions. Business people should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business.”

Like Kareem, I do not absolve Levenson’s assumptions; however, as a black businesswoman I completely understand Levenson’s intention and would rather see him stay than Ferry. Honestly, I more so question his intention of “turning himself in” than his prejudices; seems more like an exit strategy to me… But I digress.

The real deal is this: racism has never been “over” and there is no such thing as a “post-racial society.” Though more subtle now than in the days of the Negro Leagues and The Black Fives, racism persists in sports despite overwhelming minority representation in professional leagues. In fact, the 2013 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC) reported that “African-Americans comprised 76.3 percent of all NBA players. Eighty-one percent of players were players of color.” The same organization reported  66.3% African American players in the NFL and 52.3% players of color in MLS. Only 8.3% of players on 2014 MLB opening day rosters were African American, an issue that the Commissioner of Baseball is working to address with his On-Field Diversity Task force. NHL numbers are far fewer, though interest in the game among minorities–as both fans and players– seems to be climbing.

Present-day racism in sport–and in life in general, actually– comes most often in the form of denied opportunities for people of color. Meaning, instead of racial slurs, hate crimes, segregated facilities and other blatant expressions of oppression that were in abundance during the Civil Rights Era, our fight is now against discriminatory and/or exclusive hiring practices that usurp minority candidates’ ability to attain positions of leadership at the executive level and other micro-aggressions that people of color are battered with daily. The NFL’s Rooney Rule was a start that has led to the hiring of 17  African-American and Latino head coached and general managers across the league since its establishment in 2003. FIFA has launched a global campaign to combat this on its fields of play, inspiring others to do so in their communities as well. Neither of these are by any means blanket solutions; however, if they work, they work and are definitely good places to start. Especially since it would be obviously impossible to change the biases and prejudices every individual in this industry–and the world– has been brought up with, spoken or unspoken, conscious or subconscious.

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Photo: FIFA

At the end of the day, there is no place for racism is sport or society at large. It is not only flat-out wrong, but it does our entire global community a disservice by stifling the talents, perspectives and creativity that members of our worldwide community possess. Let all these incidents be a lesson: we can, and must, do better.

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Proving Her Pointe: Misty Copeland, The Unlikely Ballerina

At 13 years old, Misty Copeland began to shatter the mold for elite ballerinas. Starting late in the game without the ideal body type, no one would have guessed she’d make ballet history. Now a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater, Misty is the third black female dancer to solo with the company and the first to dance as principal in famed productions Firebird and Coppélia. 

Overcoming a tough childhood–facing homelessness and financial scarcity with her mother and siblings– to excel in dance with the help of mentors and coaches has led Misty to inspire the next generation of ballet dancers. She mentors through ABT’s Project Pliéa comprehensive initiative to increase diversity in elite American ballet companies.  In a recent interview, Misty expressed to Elle Magazine,  “I had some really incredible people who mentored me, and gave me things I never got from my parents. I think it’s so important for young dancers of color to have someone who looks like them as an example—someone they can touch.” 

Now a face of Under Armour’s I WILL WHAT I WANT campaign, Misty Copeland is a beacon of inspiration for young athletes–particularly young, minority, female athletes–who face overwhelming life circumstances and opposition in their athletic careers.  As she continues to break down barriers, I can only hope that young athletes heed her example and strive for greatness themselves.

Only by perseverance, tenacity and determination will ground be gained for the unlikely athletes– the underestimated, the late bloomers, the wrongly built, the ill-trained, the ones that were told they’re too much of the wrong and not enough of the right. You know what they say: where there’s a will, there’s a way. So keep your eye on the prize and give it all you’ve got. #IWILLWHATIWANT

Let Freedom Ring: National Freedom Week

allysonfelix

As we celebrate our country’s anniversary of independence, we reflect on the tremendous strides our society has made to extend freedom and liberty to its citizens.  Great inroads to equality of opportunity have been made, breaking down historical barriers of race, gender and wealth.  While there are still battles to be won, much progress has been made, particularly in the historically white male-dominated sports industry.  In the last decade, women and minorities have climbed the ladder of success in sports business, blazing the trail for more to follow behind them.

Check out my full article in Sports Networker for my top three sports business influencers that embody freedom.