Why this matters
Kendall Jones, Chrisal Valencia, and Dr. Scott Brooks join Andrew Ramsammy to discuss 10 trailblazers in sport that leading the way for 2021.
Throughout 2020, Global Sport Matters was able to produce GSM Live which invited academics, athletes, and advocates from all over the world to share their experiences, research, and goals. The lessons we learned from these meetings are valuable as we enter 2021, a new year of action and change. In her Predictions & Provocations for Sport 2021 article, Kendall Jones recognizes 10 GSM Live guests who are leading the way in the reset of sport. She states, “They really encapsulated these moments that matter, so these are people who pushed us, who challenged us, who are taking up space, and changing the narrative.”
Simon Chadwick, professor and director for Eurasian sport for Emylon Business School, joined GSM Live: COVID-19 & Sport in April. He expressed that as a result of the pandemic, sport will undergo a reset and that we need to consider the potential of this process. “He just started sparking off all of these different questions about what this could be,” says Jones, who cites Chadwick’s input as an inspiration for the following GSM Lives. While he noted that the reset won’t be easy, Chadwick emphasizes and practices commitment to ensuring equity across sport is critical for its future.
Jordan Marie Daniel is a member of the Kul Wicasa Oyate tribe, an elite runner, and the founder of Rising Hearts. She has used her talents and platform to elevate issues facing indigenous communities such as the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls crisis (MMIWG). Chrisal Valencia applauds Daniel for harnessing the power of social media for good. “Social media can kind of be a double edged sword,” she says. “She’s using it in a really beautiful and important way.”
Mirna Valerio is an ultra runner and advocate for inclusion in sport. She is committed to making the outdoors more accessible for everyone and challenging elitism, racism, sexism, and beauty standards in the running community. “She brings this incredible joy to being outdoors that I think is really inviting and warm and welcome,” muses Jones. “She’s out there to show that sport is for every body.”
Dr. Rashawn Ray is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. In his 2017 study "Black People Don’t Exercise in My Neighborhood", he emphasized that an intersectional framework must be applied to research and solutions to health disparities. As a fellow researcher and sociologist, Dr. Brooks praises Dr. Ray for his work and efforts to shape the conversation surrounding race, health, and sport. “He has the opportunity - much like we have in research here - where he gets to write about it everyday, important kinds of things and do it as a researcher, and that’s a privilege and an honor,” says Dr. Brooks. “He’s always been exciting to watch and listen to and he’s one of those few who are now really shooting up to the top.”
Dawn Staley is a WNBA All-Star, Olympian, Naismith Award winner, and the head coach of the USA National Team and the University of South Carolina. “When you ask her what she is, she’s not a dreamaker - as she says - she takes these kids and their dreams and she helps them to make it happen. She’s all about serving them and that’s what makes her tremendous,” says Dr. Brooks. Staley has used her platform and position as a coach to set an example for her athletes and give them the space to speak out against racial injustice. In June, she took her team to a Black Lives Matter protest and published her impactful article “Black People Are Tired” in the Players’ Tribune.
Renata Simril is the president and CEO of the LA84 Foundation which supports youth sports in southern California and strives to reduce the gap in access to these programs. “She’s out here fighting every single day to make sure that youth have that opportunity to participate and seize the benefits that sport can give not only physically, but academically,” states Jones. Simril and LA84 are utilizing sport as a tool to reduce health disparities between White people and Black, Indigneous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
Dr. Ahada McCummings is the national director of strategic partnerships for Up2Us Sports. In GSM Live: COVID-19 & the Future of Youth Sport, she emphasized that coaches have a responsibility to support their athletes throughout the pandemic. “They weren’t just responsible for their athletic development, but they were also helping the youth they worked with deal with at home issues or having to adjust to this new world,” Valencia summarizes. Thanks to Dr. McCumming’s leadership, Up2Us has partnered with Adidas’ Keep Girls in Sport program to provide coaches in underserved communities with a digital curriculum that incorporates trauma informed care and recognizes barriers faced by girl athletes.
Ashland Johnson is the founder and CEO of The Inclusion Playbook, an initiative geared towards empowering social transformation through sport. She has used her expertise and knowledge to advocate for more inclusive policies in sport, particularly for LGBTQ+ athletes. “Along with these large pieces of legislation, Ashland really reminds us and is pushing that these policies that you make a part of your culture and your team are just as important,” says Jones.
Dr. Fitz Hill is the author of Crackback! How College Football Blindsides the Hopes of Black Coaches. As a Black college football head coach, Dr. Hill noticed prominent disparities between the hiring and promotions of White and Black football coaches. This motivated him to investigate collegiate coaching and become, as Dr. Brooks says, “A real scholar-practitioner.” “He made something,” Dr. Brooks continues. “He came out on the other end far better, more educated about what was going on, and as an advocate.”
Ilhaam Groenewald is the chief director for Maties Sports at Stellenbosch University. She brings her activist background into the boardroom and is working hard to encourage and elevate athlete activism. “She said it really beautifully, ‘Social justice is more than raising your fist, it’s about making it a part of your culture,’” says Jones. “I’m excited to see how she’s going to do that.” Dr. Brooks recalls watching Groenewald in action as she advocated for more inclusive legislation and policy in South Africa. He says, “She’s just an amazing person with an amazing commitment and fire. Just brilliant. She’s always innovating and always thinking deeper and asking questions.”
As we go into 2021, there are opportunities to create a new normal. “I think the one thing we have to leave behind - that I am so ready to leave behind - is this status quo,” says Jones. Just as these 10 leaders are challenging the status quo, each of us most follow their example and do what we can with what we have. It’s time to create space for each other and take action for a more fair, equitable, and inclusive world of sport.
Although no one could have predicted all that 2020 has been, what lessons will the world of sport take into next year?
We asked some of the best and brightest minds to contribute their thoughts.