Category Archives: Theories, Musings, and Ideologies

#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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Follow the Stars? A Discussion of Professional Athletes as Nonprofit Board Members

Last evening, GWU Professor Michael Worth led “Governing and Managing Nonprofit Organizations” class in discussion about the trade-offs that organizations’ leaders are faced with when building a board of directors.  A classmate asked about the benefit and concerns of adding a celebrity to a nonprofit board.  The general consensus was that not many celebrities will demonstrate the commitment to the organization in order to be actively engaged in and fully accountable to the fiduciary responsibilities entrusted to nonprofit board members.  As this pertains to athletes, I believe that current players are susceptible to the same underwhelming commitment that is feared of many celebrities because their playing careers are simply too demanding. HOWEVER: the athlete that is driven by personal conviction and experience that will always be the best in rising to the nonprofit governance challenge, whether in the height of his or her playing career or not.

First, let’s make a distinction between the management and governance of nonprofit organizations.  Management reflects the supervision and execution of mission-driven tasks that are the responsibility of the nonprofit’s executives and staff on the ground.  The board is responsible for high-level oversight and is entrusted with the responsibility of securing the organization’s future through strategic planning, goal setting and fundraising, among other things.

When faced with competing interests in building a board with high visibility and potential to attract major gifts, some organizations might look to adding an athlete on their roster to help achieve these goals.  However, the board is responsible for more than promotion and fundraising; in fact, some of its most important responsibilities included the oversight of budgets, the development of long-range strategic plans and critical analysis of the organization’s progress toward mission achievement and the ability to measure that progress.  Nonprofit boards should consider these responsibilities in addition to goals for higher visibility and more successful capital campaigns when looking to add big name talent to their roster and ensure that their potential “draft picks” have both the capacity and willingness to carry out all of these responsibilities to the organization’s benefit.

Athletes who are still in the game are subjected to rigorous schedules for most of the year, on and off the playing field.  Between practice, games, travel and other marketing engagements, it is arguable that many of them will not be able to fully commit themselves to the leadership of a nonprofit organization.  And quite honestly, it isn’t fair to condemn them on their lack of commitment in this arena.  An athlete’s job is to play a sport and to do so at the best of his or her ability, which means giving 100% to the team or sport and even more for personal improvement.  Naturally, they cannot be expected to prioritize the governance of an organization over their playing careers. (This is also why I don’t believe it is wise for current players to charter their own personal charities, as they often do not have the experience or the time to manage them or effectively oversee those to whom they hand the reigns.) On the other hand, athletes that are phasing out of their playing careers and into (slightly) less demanding roles would, in my opinion, be better able to rise to the challenge of governing a nonprofit organization.

Of course, there are always exemplary cases of current players who have excelled on the field and in the board room; however, it is my belief that it takes strong personal conviction to keep a player running at full strength in both fields of play.  The quintessential example is now-retired Warrick Dunn, a five-time Pro Bowl running back — one of only six backs in the history of football to top 500 receptions for more than 10,000 yards — and recipient of a 2011 Jefferson Award, one of the nation’s top honors for philanthropic engagement and community service.  His service to the community began during his rookie season in 1997 when he started the Homes for the Holidays program, an initiative to grant home ownership to single mothers, a dream Warrick’s own mother was not able to realize.  During his final seasons with Tampa Bay, Warrick Dunn partnered with 11 other athletes to found Athletes for Hope, an organization “that brings athletes together to educate, inspire and empower them to channel their energy for a common goal: to make a difference in the world.”  To date, Warrick Dunn Charities’ Homes for the Holidays program has impacted the lives of 117 single parents and 311 children and dependents, and he continues to be a strong and vital leader in the Athletes for Hope mission. 

It is not the typical case that athletes are just as committed to their charitable endeavors as they are to their sport, but when an athlete has a life experience as compelling as Warrick Dunn’s (and some others!) that drives him or her to achieve at the highest levels on and off the field, nonprofit leaders can be confident that their personal conviction will command the sense of ownership and spark the personal engagement that is required for effective nonprofit organization governance.

Remedying Professional Athletes’ Philanthropic Underachievement

The following is the highlight reel of my paper entitles “Missing the Mark — Underachievement of Professional Athletes’ Philanthropic Efforts” developed for my Policy Analysis class, as part of my Master of Public Administration program at The George Washington University. Enjoy!

The Problem:

Athletes’ personal charities are notorious for their financial and administrative mismanagement and general lack of efficiency. Moreover, there are several cases in which organizations’ inability to remain compliant with IRS policy has caused legal and tax issues for their founders, only adding to the disservice these organizations are doing for the community. Thus, there is a compelling need to revisit the ways athletes, with the help of agents and managers, structure their philanthropic endeavors to ensure that the athlete’s good intentions are effectively applied toward the causes they are passionate about.

Alternative Solutions:

The public and private sectors offer a wide range of solutions to mitigate failure and ineffectiveness among professional athletes’ philanthropic efforts. Philanthropy education and strategic partnerships, donor advised funds and impact consulting are only a few models that represent the plethora of viable alternative strategies for giving back that will allow these high-profile individuals to leverage their resources in support of choice causes with maximized social returns. Athletes and their advisors must carefully consider their own philanthropic goals before selecting which method is most suitable for them, as each alternative represents a very different approach and carries its own advantages and disadvantages in comparison to the others.

Philanthropy Education and Strategic Partnerships: This model emphasizes the importance of educating athletes about the wide rage of philanthropic opportunities available to them and encourages strategic partnerships with established non-profit organizations.

Donor Advised Funds: Public charities that give grants to non-profit organizations at the suggestion of their funders are another viable route for charitable engagement. Athletes are able to articulate their visions for community investment and leverage the expertise of grant managers in the organization assessment and fund allocation processes.

Impact Consulting: This model represents the offerings of the rapidly growing program evaluation field. By incorporating the principles of outcomes measurement, impact assessment and several other tools in this practice, athletes who choose to launch their own charitable organizations can do so in a way that incorporates methods and metrics that will drive the program toward achieving the purpose for which it was created.

Evaluative Criteria:

When considering various ways to get involved philanthropically, it is critical that athletes evaluate their options according to criteria that will allow them to select the alternative that best promulgates his or her goals for social impact. The following are the evaluative criteria I have identified as key indicators of long-term impact achievement and synergy with each individual’s philanthropic goals.

Impact Orientation: The extent to which social impact achievement drives the alternative model. Provisions for financial efficiency and legal compliance with IRS or federal government requirements are necessary, but not sufficient; structuring solutions around a propensity to enact change is critical.

Mission Integrity: The alternative’s capacity to maintain the athlete’s intended purpose for his/her charity. Solutions must be context-sensitive, allowing for personal discretion and customization according to the individual athlete’s passions, preferences and ideas.

Sustainability: As playing careers cycle from launch to retirement, an athlete’s commitments and availability will change. The degree of projected long-term relevance and effectiveness that any particular model offers should remain high regardless of the career phase an athlete finds him or herself in.

Political Feasibility: Instead of political feasibility on the government level, industry politics must be taken into consideration. This criterion assesses the model’s ability to secure agent and manager buy-in, as these are the key influencers and decision makers beyond the athlete him/herself.

Administrative Feasibility: This criterion evaluates the amount of work that is required of the athlete compared to how much can/will be handled by other parties. The ability to identify and recruit capable individuals that the athlete can trust must be carefully considered.

Summary Analysis:

Copyright Kendall Moore, 2012

Conclusion:

There is a plethora of different ways professional athletes can choose to engage in philanthropy and get involved with their communities.  These models represent only a fraction of strategies to mitigate the overwhelming inefficiency that has plagued professional athletes’ personal charities in recent history.  Ultimately, it is up to the athlete to seek the council of his/her agent, publicist, financial advisor, attorney and, most importantly, his or her own philanthropic vision, to determine which of these models presents the solution that best aligns with his or her goals for community involvement.  When looking to change the thought patterns of decision makers and key influencers, both non-profit and for-profit service providers must consider their solution’s ability to generate social impact; accurately reflect the athlete’s personal vision for societal change; yield long-term results; compel agents, publicists and the athlete him or herself to buy in from a financial and personal brand standpoint; and ensure that the administrative burden rests on the shoulders of capable and trustworthy individuals. No matter the model, impact evaluation is the critical factor that will correct the trajectory of athletes’ philanthropic endeavors and lead them to great social legacies.