Tag Archives: NBA

#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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Breaking the Cycle of Broke: The Business Case

Just last week Iverson was reported to have been begging for change outside Atlanta’s Lenox Mall. A security guard asked him to leave, but with great difficulty, as Iverson was a childhood hero of his. Yes, Allen Iverson, the 1996 first-overall NBA draft pick and Rookie of the Year, 5-time NBA scoring title winner, MVP, Olympic bronze medalist and 5th greatest NBA shooting guard of all time according to ESPN. He earned more than $200 million in salary and endorsements over his 17 year career, but couldn’t seem to hold on to it. 

Photo Credit: The News Nerd
Photo Credit: The News Nerd

But all is not lost. Thankfully, Iverson had someone truly looking out for his long-term, best interest during the height of his career. Known as “The Reebok Fund,” Iverson reportedly has a $32 million trust funded with earnings from shoe deals that he cannot touch until he’s 55. He’ll be able to start drawing on his NBA pension at age 45. He’s 39 now, so there’s still some figuring out to do in the meantime. But for many athletes, Iverson’s “meantime” is their perpetual future outlook. If it weren’t for the foresight of a trusted and savvy friend, Iverson would likely be looking at indefinite financial ruin.

A 2009 Sports Illustrated article reported that 60% of former NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. Among NFL retirees, bankruptcy and financial duress become harsh realities for more than three-fourths of athletes only 2 years after hanging up their cleats. ESPN’s 30 for 30 film “Broke premiered in 2012, revealing the dark side of success and painting a complex picture of the many forces that drain athletes’ bank accounts.

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What’s sad is that this isn’t new news. The real tragedy is that this continues to happen to some of the most highly esteemed people in America. But why? 

These days, with the almost inconceivable amount of resources available to professional sports leagues–especially to the NBA and NFL, whose teams are collectively worth more than $19 billion and $37 billion, respectively–you’d think there would be a support infrastructure built in to guide these guys from the time they sign their rookie contracts through their retirement. While both leagues have their own versions of a rookie symposium that touch on financial responsibility, obviously there’s still more work to be done… Mostly because you can’t teach a 19 or 21 year old everything he needs to know about life as a professional athlete (or a responsible adult, or even about basic personal finance) in 3 days. But more than that, THIS KEEPS HAPPENING! 

Now certainly Allen Iverson’s financial situation is no more the fault of the NBA as any professional athlete’s “brokeness” is the fault of the league that gave them their fortune. Like anyone, Allen Iverson is fully accountable for his decision-making. However, given the unique position the NBA, NFL and other sports leagues have, there is more they can do to help their athletes learn how to make wise decisions with regard to money to avoid falling into the next generation of broke former superstars. 

Not the league’s job, you say? Perhaps not. However, it IS in their best interest. Any professional sports league’s greatest asset is their athletes. Yes, the TV deals and brand equity may (now) be valued higher than any individual player or franchise, but let’s not forget there would be nothing to watch and nothing to brand without those guys (and girls!) putting their bodies on the line on the playing field. That being said, it is in any league’s best interest to protect their assets–even from themselves.

First, it’s the right thing to do. I’m a firm believer that, if you have the capacity to do help, you have the responsibility to help. You know, “to whom much is given, much is required.” The NBA, NFL, etc. have the resources (financial and otherwise) to convene the foremost experts on financial management, investment, and other topics to present a more comprehensive curriculum to teach athletes what they now need to know on a grander scale (due to the sheer amount of money they’re making). Further, this curriculum should certainly be presented in the Rookie Symposium but must be made available year-round to players in all stages of their careers to promote continued learning and educated decision-making beyond an athlete’s first year of play. Not interesting enough? How about getting the athletes (current and former) who have graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance or economics to teach their teammates some of the do’s and don’ts of personal finance and investing? This would be less common in the NBA with players eligible for the draft only 1 year out of high school, but in the NFL where many athletes complete their college degrees before starting their pro football careers, this would be a great way to not only encourage continued education but deliver valuable information via trusted sources. They read the books in school and are living the life on the field–they truly get it. 

Second, it makes business sense. There are no positive gains for a league’s brand equity when it faces law suits from former players over benefits or anything else. Moreover, when the league’s players do well on and off the field, it greatly improves the on-field product. How? Check out these stats from the American Psychological Association:

  • 43% of employees say that home and family responsibilities interfere with job performance
  • Conflict between work and family roles was found to lower the perceived quality of both work and family life which, in turn, influences organizational outcomes such as productivity, absenteeism and turnover.
  • The existence of programs that facilitate work-life balance is related to organizational commitment and job satisfaction.
  • Companies with higher growth in profitability have engagement levels that are more than 20% higher than those of their counterparts and provide more growth and development opportunities.
  • In a 2009/2010 report, companies with the most effective health and productivity programs achieved 11% more revenue per employee, delivered 28% higher shareholder returns and had lower medical trends and fewer absences per employee.

So, putting this in NFL/NBA terms: an athlete that has personal development opportunities available through his team and/or league can leverage those opportunities to minimize negative impact from home and family stress on job performance; become more productive on the field; and yield greater profitability for the team. I think that makes a pretty good business case, don’t you? 

Think about it: A player facing divorce has significant emotional duress to contend with that will likely affect his performance on the field. What’s more, there’s great cost to the whole process, from the lawyers’ fees to the ultimate price of settlement. An then the guy still has to figure out what to do with what money is left (if any). We’ve seen this situation far too often, in addition to those that are marked by extravagant spending and bad investments. What these guys need is guidance, and the teams and leagues they play for have the responsibility and even the selfish interest to do something about it. 

New York Times writers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer put it this way: “Work should ennoble, not kill, the human spirit. Promoting workers’ well-being isn’t just ethical; it makes economic sense. Fostering positive inner lives sometimes requires…that managers address daily hassles and help with technical problems.”

Daily hassles and technical problems could, in this case, be described as everyday money decisions and the lack of knowledge to effectively deal with them. Teams and leagues have what it takes to solve the “technical problems” by providing players, current and former, with the tools they need for success. It’s just a matter of will at this point.

Sports Leagues Give Americans Something to be Thankful For.

Football and Thanksgiving go hand in hand in this country.   But for the last several years, teams and athletes across all the major US sports leagues  have given families in cities nationwide something to celebrate and be thankful for… even more than just a W on the playing field.

Power Plays around the NHL

Since 1992, the Penguins have hosted annual food drives to benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank as part of the team’s Score Against Hunger initiative.  This past Thursday, the Pens visited Bedford Hope Center in the Hill District to hand out turkeys, vegetables and other complements to local families in need, bringing an early happy Thanksgiving to several members of their community. 

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Last season, New York Rangers alumni and staff partnered with Life Center; a Lower East Side shelter; to provide a special Thanksgiving dinner for 350 children and families who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.

MLB Pitches In

This year, the LA Dodgers went above and beyond.  Now in its 9th year, the Dodgers annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway tripled the number of meals it provided, giving over 2,000 local families the makings of  a perfect Thanksgiving meal.

 

Slam Dunks across the NBA

Today marked the 15th year of the Utah Jazz We Care – We Share Thanksgiving dinner, where players, coaches, executives and employees,  helped serve more than 3,600 homeless and low-income guests a warm meal.  Along with a generous early Thanksgiving dinner, the Jazz also distributed winter clothing items and set up a play area and activities for the children.

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David and Lesley West of the Indiana Pacers sponsored this year’s Come to Our House Thanksgiving dinner held at the Pacers’ home at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.  More than 650 men, women and children from central Indiana shelters enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal shared with the Pacers family in the event’s 16th year.

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Former NFL Player Takes it to the House

For the last 16 years, former Falcon Warrick Dunn has given families in multiple US cities the gift of homeownership. Homes for the Holidays was founded 1997 under the umbrella of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers community initiatives during Warrick’s first year in the NFL. The program has  expanded tremendously since its inception, awarding its 129th home to a New Jersey family this month.

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When people talk about the power of sport, they’re really describing a potential to use a game– any game– to capture the hearts and minds of people and make a difference in their lives.  There’s no limit on what that difference can be.  The sports community has had a tremendous impact on fans and families nationwide, from lifting spirits with simple acts of kindness to putting the seemingly unattainable within reach, and giving us all a reason to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!