- 09.10.2021 Cloud9: Can Esports Teach Life Lessons?
On Thursday, September 24, PCA hosted our third Sports Can Battle Racism Webinar. The topic of conversation was on college culture and respect. The panelists included Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique, Rick George, Imani McGee-Stafford, Rodney Page, and Jamie Zaninovich.
To begin, Moderator Trennis Jones introduced the panelists’ backgrounds and asked each a personalized question. First, Akilah encouraged parents to look for holistic support where the student-athlete is supported emotionally, instrumentally, and informationally. Next, Rick George talked about how he hired 2 consecutive black head football coaches. He touched on two main topics: first, the notion of representation for the student-athletes and needing someone who looks like them, especially in a predominately white community on campus; second the need to create a pipeline of diverse candidates in college athletics. Third, Imani McGee-Stafford talked about how formative her coaches were in her life by caring about her as a person first. This taught her how to take criticism, have hard conversations with her coaches or teammates, and find hobbies outside of basketball. Rodney Page talked about a lesson he learned that stuck with him and he teaches to the kids he coaches and mentors today: adapt – sell up, not sell out, transcend – get through obstacles, and transform – grow and change into a better person. Last, was Jamie Zaninovich who talked about the importance of diversity in partnerships and development. He reminded viewers that team sports is all about the power of diversity. When you put together a team, the best team is going to be the one that brings the most diverse perspectives. He also shared the voting initiative the Pac-12 has started with a gaol to register all student-athletes to vote and help them follow through and vote.
I refuse to quit. I refuse to give up. I refuse to become a victim.
The first section of the conversation was on culture answering the question: What demands should we make of our colleagues, coaches, and administrators to ensure respect. Akilah began by saying there needs to be education that puts everyone on the same page on definitions for respect and racism. After everyone has the same base definitions, it’s possible to unfold experiences, history, and set a standard. She also shared how sports are a microcosm of society – reflecting the good and bad. One of these reflections is how coaches set the tone as it relates to leadership and the embodiment of values.
Rick chimed in by sharing that culture starts with core values. At the University of Colorado Tthe first value is respect and it is non-negotiable. Rodney built on both ideas sharing that his only rule in all of his mentoring and coaching is respect. And he has to embody and model respect in order for the people he works with to follow suit. He also encouraged everyone to COMMAND respect instead of demanding it.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
The next section was on representation. The panelists dicussed the importance of seeing people who look like you in a position of power. Imani shared that it’s hard to tell children to be something they’ve never seen – and television doesn’t count as representation. She said one of the biggest reasons she talks to kids now is to be the representation she missed as a child. Akilah added that she didn’t necessarily have that person to look up to in her profession, so the encouragement came from her teammates, coaches, and parents.
Switching to how to continue to inspire the next generation, Rodney shared it’s all about WORTH. A big part of worth comes from understanding self-worth and identity. Inspiration comes from finding a purpose and calling in life. Through his experience, Rodney has found the best way to do this is by sharing parts of his story to help kids make sense of their story and journey.
The final section was on responsibility. This began by thinking about how interactions with student-athletes can be relational instead of transactional. Jamie shared that as a white man – the dominant race and gender in administration of college athletics – it is his obligation and responsibility to create transformative experiences for their athletes – who over-index as black men. Rick elaborated: the key is to ask and then to listen. The goal is to give student-athletes an education, a voice, and a platform. To do this, administrators and coaches have to engage with student-athletes and respect their voice. Rick also shared that action must be taken in the campus community before athletics departments can help in the greater community.
Next, Imani was asked about how she was able to butt heads with her coach but still understand the love her coach had for her. She shared that it came from two things: a mutual goal and building a relationship from the beginning. She also touched on the need to have conversations about race and identity, because – especially now – if an administrator, coach, or teammate is ignoring race as part of an athlete’s identity, then they can’t build that relationship. She also discussed how student-athletes are starting to realize their power and demand action like at the University of Texas. At the same time, she encouraged the conversations to come from the top-down to increase the power of those same conversations.
Rodney concluded the conversation by saying that he came from a different generation. Now people are more open to the conversation, but it’s time to commit to action not just talk.