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On Tuesday, July 28, PCA hosted our second Sports Can Battle Racism Webinar. The topic of discussion was how sports can define us, unify us, and empower us. 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. He began by introducing our four panelists and asking them specific questions on how their upbringing inspired them to use sports as a platform to speak out against injustice. The responses included Ruthie learning to forge an individual identity as one of 20 kids and Lanny seeing the possibility of sucess as his mother excelled as a black woman in computer programming.
The first part of the discussion focused on the panelists’ experiences in sports and how sports guided their success. Lanny said the obstacles inherent to sports helped him build a stronger character and increased his confidence. Ruthie built on the confidence she learned from sports with a story about jumping a fence when she was a teenager. She said learning how to jump a fence in her backyard showed her that success is a process and doesn’t happen overnight. Additionally, she learned she had to believe in her ability in order to successfully jump the fence. The lessons from jumping the fence has helped her know her why and pursue it.
Next, the panelists discussed how playing kids from different backgrounds helped them learn to be more accepting. C.J. discussed how his cousins used to tease him and his brother for playing basketball in the “white program,” but those interactions showed him how to navigate through life. Lanny echoed the sentiment and added that kids become friends through shared interests. Growing up in sports allowed him to meet kids of all different backgrounds and interacting with white and black people showed him there’s good, bad, and ugly in both groups. He emphasized that building relationships helps overcome stereotypes.
Before moving on to the next topic, Trennis asked Ruthie about being a part of something larger than itself. She discussed how sports bridges the gap and teaches a mindset and resiliency that can be applied outside of sports. Ruthie discussed using the platform and influence provided from playing in the WNBA and the Olympics to elevate everyone. She used a basketball analogy to describe using optimism as her mindset and use a full-court press over staying in a zone defense. Instead of waiting for the other team to miss, she’s going to force a turnover.
If all I'm remembered for is being a good basketball player, then I've done a bad job with the rest of my life.
The second part of the conversation focused on how coaches can help create a welcoming environment for everyone, specifically for black kids, and how to empower athletes. The two main takeaways were to get to know the kids outside of sports and encourage conversations.
First, all of the panelists highlighted the importance of seeing the athletes as who they are outside of the sport. They encourage coaches to learn about where their athletes come from, what their other passions are, and who they are when they step of the court. Having this knowledge allows coaches to have a greater understanding of the challenges their athletes are facing. With this understanding, coaches are better able to step up and help. And it’s imperative to step up and do something, because history has proven that racism isn’t just going to fade away, it’s going to take intentional actions from everyone.
“At the same time that we’re all trying to pass down love, those people who are hating are also passing down that hate, so we’ve got to be even stronger in what we’re trying to pass down.”
- Lanny Smith
Second, the panelists discussed creating an environment where athletes feel comfortable sharing their experiences and asking questions. Now more than ever, it’s important for coaches to have open conversations and use those conversations to educate, answer questions, and help kids navigate.
One of the most powerful parts of the discussion was Lanny talking about the disconnect between supporting a black athlete on the court but not standing up for them off the field. He brought up the recent example of college football coaches making statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and then getting called out by their black players for unjust actions or creating an environment where racism flourished. Lanny suggested that the disconnect comes from seeing athletes as a way to get wins and not as people and members of the black community off the field. This is extended to the way fans react to players speaking out against racism. White fans often respond by pointing to the success professional athletes have found in their sport without understanding that athletes have faced the same injustice and are speaking out for the black population “that will never have white people wearing their jerseys.”
About 40 minutes into the discussion, Renee Montgomery joined and shared her decision-making process to sit out the WNBA season this year to dedicate her time to fighting social injustice. She shared that she felt she couldn’t put her all into the game while thinking about what she could be doing off the court. She was so confident in her decision that she was able to announce it two weeks before it was required by the WNBA. Renee also talked about why the WNBA has been so successful in speaking out against racial injustice, saying it comes from understanding. The players in the WNBA are used to being the minority. They are females in a traditionally male sport. On top of that, many of them are black women. As a result, they’re used to being in the minority and feel the need to speak out for those who don’t have the platform or voice provided by success in the WNBA.
Trennis expanded on the idea of sports amplifying voices and asked the panelists why sports has been able to lead the way in social justice. Lanny immediately pushed back on this idea, saying that while sports have given the black community a path to success and power to address the issues, it has not led to a solution. He echoed his earlier sentiment that the lack of solution is a result of mentally separating athletes from the black population, emphasizing that "Black Lives Matter" is a statement of humanity. Renee echoed this sentiment by highlighting recent quotes from Jimmy Butler and Tom Herman. Jimmy Butler, a Miami Heat player, recently discussed his decision not to include a phrase or name on the back of his jersey, expressing that him being an NBA player shouldn’t give him any more rights than any other black person in America. Tom Herman, Head Football Coach at The University of Texas, challenged America to go beyond cheering for black athletes on the field and welcome them into our lives off the field too.
We’re gonna cheer when they score touchdowns, and we’re gonna hug our buddy when they get sacks or an interception. But we gonna let them date our daughter? Are we going to hire them in a position of power in our company? That’s the question I have for America. You can’t have it both ways.
For the final question of the afternoon, Trennis asked each of the panelists to share what they would tell a younger version of themselves seeing the social unrest and wondering if their life matters. Their answers may help provide answers for coaches interacting with black athletes on their teams.
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