For the first episode of the new year, After the Buzzer takes on an issue that has dominated the discussion around professional sports over the last year — athletes who use their very visible platforms to protest or call or attention to societal issues. How do the actions of these athletes resonate among team and league leadership, and how do they affect the massive business of pro sports?
This week’s guests provided us with some insights on those questions, as well as how and why pro teams focus so intently on community engagement. Hint: It’s good for the community and good for business. Team outreach increases engagement and awareness among youth and families and helps to build a fan base (and a pipeline of future players). And communities and charitable organizations benefit from the involvement and financial support of the teams.
Some highlights from Bob Wallace’s discussion with this week’s guests:
Molly Higgins, Vice President, Community Affairs and Engagement for the Los Angeles Rams:
“People love our platform when we’re encouraging kids to be healthy and active, celebrating our military heroes or bringing awareness to cancer prevention. But sometimes when we use our platform to draw awareness to social justice issues, that upsets people. And those conversations aren’t always easy and comfortable, but that doesn’t mean they are not necessary. It might not be popular to talk about community-police relations or criminal justice reform or poverty or educational inequities. But they’re important to our players, and quite frankly, they need to be important to all of society.”
Allison Hawk, PR expert and owner of AHC Consulting:
“The power of sport, whether it’s a team or an individual athlete, is not something that people really thought about until the last 10 or 15 years. And there’s a whole notion of what’s spontaneous versus what’s strategic. With a strategic approach, I think you have to realize that every stakeholder’s got a different perspective, and it’s important to bring as many stakeholders together to have a conversation and create an approach to [player protests or crisis situations].”
Jessica Berman, Vice President, Community Development, Culture & Growth for the National Hockey League:
“I would quote Nelson Mandela and say, ‘Sport has the power to change the world.’ And it’s a missed opportunity, because sports is one of the few things, certainly in today’s environment, that actually unites people. And it would be a shame for organizations, players and others who have the privilege of working in this industry, to not leverage that opportunity.”