Why this matters
In the time of COVID-19, when the extreme has become the norm, and legends like John Thompson have left us, we find ourselves in the midst of a reset moment that is long overdue.
They say “never say never.” And 2020 has been a year that proves the point.
As most of us have been confined to our homes, riding out the storm, the world of sport has been ducking and weaving around the pandemic, some of it in bubbles, and most of it trying to get back to a sense of normal, whatever that is.
I had never contemplated the possibility of the complete stoppage of sport, across virtually all of sport, around the globe. Maybe a game or two for reasons beyond weather has occurred on occasion historically. What could bring that about? We saw a brief stoppage after 9/11 and during WWII it took President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “green light letter” to nudge sport forward. In yet another instance Commissioner Pete Rozelle regretted to his death, that NFL games were played in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Terrorism, war, and assassination. Something that’s highly visible and seen has brought about the past halting or contemplation of halting sport.
This go-around, the culprit can’t be seen. It lingers in the air, carried within us, and the physical and mental effects of the pandemic are real and the world of sport isn’t immune. I never would have imagined. Maybe if I had studied the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. But I had not.
But even before the current pandemic, some long term nagging issues have always been there. And this summer we saw an explosion and outcry on America’s deep-seated issues on race. In quick succession, the intersection of sport and race became clearer than ever.
And for us, as an institute studying sport, engaged in internal conversations on a Friday afternoon, after learning about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, we too were shook.
What would follow after that day, would become a series of internal and external discussions on race. Our research team had already been working on what would become our latest study on hiring practices of head football coaches within the NCAA Power 5. The research shows us a microcosm of what we have seen all too often, too few black college coaches, despite many black coaching candidates having once-in-a-lifetime credentials.
And undoubtedly, the mental toll that this smash and crash of 2020, will hit college athletes, and their extended circles for years to come. In our last issue, Professor Brian David Johnson wrote of what could become a lost generation of athletes. We’re seeing that loss now, both on the field, and off. The sports future for youth around the world remains uncertain.
And what might save college sports at this moment, is a balance tilting away from health and to the business side of the commerce sport equation. There’s no question that college sport is inextricably linked to the amount of revenue it creates. It’s an engine that drives itself and often the other sports within its sphere that depends on it. And there are people looking at the varying degrees to which it can safely return, while others don’t believe that the risk is worth the reward.
Finally, the world of college sport lost a giant, with the passing of John Thompson. In a piece from Bill Rhoden, he eloquently states that “Now more than ever, we need the moral force and conviction that Thompson represented.”
So, this is the moment we’re in. When “never” has become the norm, that in this “reset of college sport” the possibilities of better and new just might be.
Kenneth L. Shropshire
CEO, Global Sport Institute
Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport
Sport at the college level in America is facing issues reflective of the world at large. From the calls for racial equality, labor disputes and discussions, to health and safety concerns with playing in a pandemic - what will this reset moment look like?