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RECAP: Sports Can Battle Racism Webinar - Growing the Game


On Friday, November 20th, PCA hosted another installment of the Sports Can Battle Racism Webinars. The topic discussed among former professional athletes, Brenda Villa and Jamal Mayers, and sports foundation Executive Directors and sports parents, Clint Sanchez and Sybil Stephens was how we need to grow sports and find ways to provide access to both traditional and non-traditional sports where barriers exist. The webinar is part of our intentional action steps to be a force for reconciliation following PCA’s Commitment to Change. The goal of our Sports Can Battle Racism Webinars is to encourage and participate in open conversation.

Trennis Jones, PCA Regional Director and co-chair of the Sports Can Battle Racism Committee, moderated the discussion. After a brief introduction of our four panelists, Trennis asked each of them why access is so important to growing sports which are considered non-traditional.

If kids can see it then they would want to become it. So hopefully, I've been that for alot of kids. They can see someone that looks like them, that plays a non traditional sport. For black and brown kids to see that it's possible.

Jamal Mayers, Chicago Blackhawks Community Liaison and 2013 Stanley Cup Champion

The first part of the discussion focused on the panelists’ experiences in sports and the barriers they needed to overcome in order to find success in their respective sport. Jamal Mayers said, “The first thing you need to do is bring these sports directly into the schools”. For Mayers, access to ice hockey wasn’t immediately available, but he fell in love with the game using what was available to him. Playing floor hockey or street hockey was a way for him to organically grow the love of the game before he had access to an ice rink.

One existing barrier, which all panelists were in agreement on, was access to transportation.  Clint Sanchez, Executive Director of First Tee of Greater Washington DC, mentioned that transportation from school to the golf courses could be a real challenge for many.  Sanchez added that there is a very real perception that golf is a rich person's game and that perception stunts the growth of the game for youth.  

As a solution to the transportation issue, Mayers suggested having the Chicago Blackhawks provide transportation for kids that want to head to the ice rinks to play hockey.

It's just funny because it's a bit of a sales job, but fun is fun for kids. We found that our coaches do a great job at really promoting and getting out and showing the kids by modeling the activities. You can find ways of selling it and pitching it because it is fun.

Sybil Smith, Executive Director of the Sloane Stephens Foundation

The discussion then led to a conversation about how we should have open communication with kids on the cultural barriers of playing a non-traditional sport.  And, more importantly, ensuring that athletes feel like they belong in the sport as well.  Sybil Smith believes that first and foremost you must promote the game you're playing in a way where kids can see that these non-traditional sports are just as fun as any other sport out there.  

Olympic Water Polo Gold Medalist, Brenda Villa responded to the moderator’s comment that there's this stigma that brown people don't swim. He asked her to share how she felt we could get more people of color involved with water sports and how the existing stigma affects participation. Villa said that safety and education are the most important starting points. She mentioned that you need kids and parents to feel safe and comfortable in the water first before you move on to developing any skills. Villa also brought to the viewers' attention the creation of a racial equity task force working to ensure growth and diversity in the sport of water polo in particular.

An important topic about who carries the most weight to cause the cultural shift that we need to see in non-traditional sports was discussed next.  The most common response among all four panelists was that change must start at the top.  We need owners, executives, and people with power to make the effort to be a catalyst for change.  Additionally, all panelists agreed that the work to create change has to be intentional.  It can't just be money thrown at the cause with no thought behind it other than ‘it's the right thing to do.’ 

Villa added that unlike the other sports represented in the roundtable, water polo does not have a professional league.  This means that money is not necessarily readily available to help their cause. Therefore, creativity is required to find ways to help create change.  While the money isn't there, the task force has had success finding other ways to grow the sport of water polo.

To sum it all up with this impressive group, Jones asked each to share the one word they hope people will use to define their legacy in and out of sports. With progress in the hands of capable sports enthusiasts like them, we are headed in the right direction.

  • Clint: Integrity
  • Sybil: Hopeful
  • Brenda: Access
  • Jamal: Passionate


Brenda Villa Explains How You Need More Than Just Money To Help Create A Culture Shift

Sybil Smith On How To Show Kids That Non Tradition Sports Are Fun Too

Jamal Mayers On Being An Example For Kids