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GSM Live: Tough Conversations in 2021 (Audio)

Why this matters

Dr. Wilsa Charles Malveaux, Ashland Johnson, and Jeremy Goldberg join GSM Live to discuss youth sport, mental health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As we enter 2021, we continue to have tough conversations about the problems facing our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, and political tension have exacerbated divisions and inequities in all aspects of life, including sport. However, it is vital to remain optimistic and support one another. 

One way to support each other is to be aware of new policies and legislation. Ashland Johnson, attorney and author of Play to Win says, “When all else fails, know your rights. When other people won’t do the right thing, know the law.” Johnson has dedicated her career to defending civil rights and advancing equitable policy in youth sports. 

She emphasizes that far too often, legislation is passed under the guise of uplifting one group when it is actually designed to oppress another. She lends the example of recent “Save Women’s Sports” bills. Rather than make provisions for better pay, facilities, and media coverage in women’s sports, these bills discriminate against transgender girls and women athletes. “You’re being offered a zero-sum game, and that’s just not how sports works,” says Johnson.

“Whenever you see one of these bills pop up, call your local Congressperson,” she continues. “A lot of the times these bills slip through because no one is saying anything.”

In addition to being an informed and active citizen, challenging “business as usual” is a critical avenue for eradicating inequity. Jeremy Goldberg is the President of League Apps, a sports technology company that supports youth and local sports management. Goldberg stresses the importance of recognizing how societal issues are reflected in youth sport and this requires multifaceted solutions.

He points out the necessity of moving away from the pay to play, scarcity model that has systematically reduced opportunities for young athletes in underserved communities. It’s not a matter of there not being enough opportunities, but rather it’s a matter of reluctance to create more opportunities. “The demand is there so it’s up to us collectively to meet it,” he says.

The return to youth sports will be particularly interesting because of an emerging movement to incorporate mental health resources. The challenges of the last year have been just as taxing on young athletes as it has been on their parents. The absence of normalcy in regards to social interaction, education, and sports has negatively impacted their development and mental health. 

Dr. Wilsa Charles Malveaux is a sports psychiatrist who emphasizes that even if someone isn’t talking about their stress, that does not mean that it doesn’t exist. She encourages everyone - especially parents with young athletes - to create a structured schedule, maintain safe social interaction, exercise, and practice gratitude to help cope with these stressful times. She points out that everyone is experiencing a level of grief and for many athletes, separation from their sport. 

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout signals an impending return to normalcy, it is important to stay engaged, stay safe, and stay healthy.