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Race, Sport, and Activism Panel

Written by: Dr. Joseph Cooper

Aaron Garland, Foley Fatukasi, Kelli Thomas, Tyrae Simms, Deshon Foxx, Angelo Pruitt and Dr. Joseph Cooper
Pictured from left to right: Aaron Garland, Foley Fatukasi, Kelli Thomas, Tyrae Simms, Deshon Foxx, Angelo Pruitt and Dr. Joseph Cooper; Photo credit: @UConnSPM Instagram

On September 1, 2016, before the NFL regular season game between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers, Colin Kaepernick captured the nation’s attention by kneeling during the playing the of the national anthem as an act of protest against police brutality and social injustices in the United States (U.S.). Although, Kaepernick had chosen not to stand during the NFL pre-season games of the 2016-2017 season, the visibility of the nationally televised Thursday night game generated a broader national conversation on activism and sport. Since Kaepernick’s initial kneel, there ongoing debates and discussions about protests, patriotism, police brutality, politics, and power relations in the U.S. society. These conversations have occurred everywhere from mainstream news shows, internet blogs, coffee shops, late night comedy shows, sports shows, schools, barbershops and beauty salons, political speeches, town halls, and community spaces. 

On October 18, 2017, the UConn campus community extended this dialogue by engaging in a formal conversation on the topic of “Race, Sport, and Activism.” This event was co-sponsored by the Collective Uplift student organization, UConn Athletics Department, and UConn Sport Management Program. The aim of the event was to facilitate a healthy discussion on how race, sport, and activism have been historically and contemporarily intertwined and contributed to positive social progress. Dr. Joseph Cooper, Assistant Professor in Sport Management, was the lead organizer and moderator for the event. According to Cooper, the event provided

“A much needed concerted space for the campus to focus on the ways in which sport and athletes use their respective platforms to communicate messages about broader social issues and ignite positive change in society.”

The panel began with an evocative video of a spoken word artist named Tariq Touré who delivered a powerful poem titled “For the Love the Game.” Members who presented and attended the Race, Sport and Activism Panel Discussion on 10/18/17The poem provided illustrative descriptions of contested sporting spaces that reinforce damaging power relationships between White male economic elites (i.e., NFL owners) and Black male laborers (i.e., a majority of NFL players) , reflect persisting racial inequalities, and fosters an apolitical culture that suppresses Blacks’ engagement in political and social justice engagement. Following the video, Cooper highlighted the historical legacy of activism efforts through sport for race-related social justice causes. Within this description, different types of activism were presented including symbolic, scholarly/educational, grassroots, sport-based, economic, political, legal, media, and music and art. Each of the aforementioned types of activism have been utilized by Black athletes and institutions redress injustices in society. In addition, the historical overview connected sport activism dating back to the late 1800s to the most recent acts of activism in the 21st century.

Following the historical overview, three videos of Colin Kaepernick’s initial post-game explanation of why he chose to take a knee, President Trump’s recent comments about how he feels NFL owners should respond to players who choose not to stand for the anthem, and President Obama’s response to a military service member who inquired about his feelings about the NFL anthem protests were presented. After the videos, the six panelists were introduced. The six panelists included

  • Deshon Foxx - current graduate student in the UConn Sport Management program, UConn alumnus (’14 in Sociology), former UConn football player (2010-2014)), and former NFL player (2014-2017)
  • Angelo Pruitt - current Financial Advisor for Merrill Edge, UConn alumnus (’15 in Economics), and former UConn football player (2010-2015)
  • Tyrae Sims - current undergraduate student in the UConn Sport Management program and former UConn football player (2013-2016)
  • Kelli Thomas - current undergraduate student in Human Development and Family Studies and current track and field athlete (2013-present)
  • Folorunso Fatukasi - UConn alumnus (’17 in Sociology) and current UConn football player (2013-present)
  • Aaron Garland - current undergraduate student in Political Science and current UConn football player (2015-2017)

The panelists were asked questions regarding their perspectives on the videos of Kaepernick, President Trump, and President Obama as well as their thoughts on athletes engaging in activism and specific recommendations that felt would contribute to positive change in society.

Pruitt emphasized how his heightened social consciousness during the latter stages of and following his athletic career influenced his perceptions of activism through sport. He said

“Your sport is what you play. It is not who you are.”

In his opinion, although he did not engage in activism during his playing career, if he could go back knowing what he knows now he would encourage more activism among current athletes. Foxx reflected on his NFL career when he was a member of the Seattle Seahawks immediately following Kaepernick’s activism. He described how he and his teammates agreed locking arms as a team would send a powerful message about unity while expressing support for Kaepernick. He also highlighted the real fear that comes with a lack of job security as a professional athlete when considering to engage in activism. However, he explained how his increased social consciousness throughout his playing career has motivated him to encourage athletes using their platform to foster positive change in society.

Sims expressed the need for athletes challenge power systems that suppress their authentic identities. He explained how athletes are not disconnected from social injustices occurring in the broader society and being educated on these issues is an important first step. Specifically, he referenced how in his hometown community, police brutality and other offenses were not uncommon and thus athletes like himself who are closely connected to these issues feel more compelled to speak out and do anything they can to address these issues. Thomas provided an important lens as a Black woman athlete and described how often times she feels she does not have the same influence as her same race male counterparts in more high profile sports (football and basketball). She explained the importance of athletes using a range of platforms to challenge social injustice outside of sport.

Fatukasi offered an insightful perspective on being a current college athlete and the legitimate fears associated with engaging in activism. Similar to Foxx, Fatukasi has NFL aspirations and said engaging in activism as a current player could hinder his chances of achieving his professional goals. He also emphasized the importance of athletes’ developing themselves holistically and accessing support systems to assist them with balancing difficult decisions about how to promote social change while minimizing the adverse impact on their sport aspirations. Garland expressed the power of collective efforts when seeking to address social injustices. He described how pursuing these efforts alone can be challenging and gaining the support and involvement of an entire team or a group of people is a way to achieve more impactful change. The panel concluded with Q&A from the audience.

The event was well-attended with over 60 attendees and media coverage from CTN and university based media outlets. Cooper said he hopes this is event serves as

“One more step forward within a larger legacy of social justice efforts to create more reflection, education, empowerment, and action that leads to positive changes in our society.”

For those who attended this event and heard from the panelists, it is clear this message resonated loud and clear.

Global Researcher: Professor Shaun Dougherty Presents Vocational Education Research Abroad

Shaun Dougherty Headshot
Educational Leadership's Professor Shaun Dougherty

On September 15, 2017, Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy, Shaun Dougherty, presented research on technical education at the University College Dublin School of Economics in Dublin, Ireland. Four days prior to his visit to UCD, Dr. Dougherty presented at The Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) Conference at the London School of Economics in London, England. Following his trip, we were able to talk with Dr. Dougherty concerning the importance of technical and vocational education and his experience abroad:

1. How does postsecondary education in the United States compare to the education systems in Europe?

In the US we have a highly self-directed system of tertiary education whereby students can self-select into two- or four-year colleges, technical training, or no tertiary education as well. In the UK and Ireland, the systems are more similar to the US than in much of the rest of mainland Europe. That said, even the UK system is more differentiated than our own, with clearer vocational pathways for tertiary education, and less clearly defined in programs that would look like our community colleges.

2. Why is the idea of vocational education more popular abroad and what barriers have limited technical schools as a widely accepted route in the United States?

The United States has generally favored a focus on individual choice in educational pursuits and have thus chosen to focus on development of more general skills, rather than encouraging differentiation of educational pathways based on prior test score of academic performance. In the UK and Ireland there is less differentiation early in the educational process. In contrast, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark differentiate across educational pathways that are college bound, or not, much earlier (e.g. lower secondary, or transition to upper secondary).

3. How has the value of a high school diploma changed in the United States? Additionally, how has the value of a bachelor’s degree changed in the United States?

Over the last three decades there has been a clear decline in the value of a high school diploma. Some of this decline has been driven by the fact that high school graduation rates have risen steadily over this period, which has reduced the ability of the diploma to be used as a way to distinguish students with lower and middle skills. In contrast, the value of a bachelor’s degree has increased over this period, though there is some speculation now whether we may see a plateau in the returns to a college degree as rates of degree acquisition increase.

4. What is the future for technical education schools and vocational training in the United States?

In the present political moment, interest in Career and Technical Education (CTE) as part of “college and career readiness” is at its highest in 30 years. As there is increased evidence of lower than desired college completion rates (among those who ever enroll), there is an acknowledgement that differentiation in career pathways is important, and that college for all policies may not have done as well as they might in creating awareness of the myriad of educational and workforce options that may be available to people. I anticipate that technical education will continue to garner some substantial attention in the near term. However, unless states and districts do a good job of defining educational options and articulating how they can transfer into higher education and employment, there may be under utilization of these educational pathways.

5. What are the advantages of vocational training and how can it improve employment outcomes?

CVER
Poster Board from the Centre for Vocational Education Research Conference in London, England

One of the benefits of technical education is that it makes schooling relevant and clearly applies it to a form of learning that reflects a use in employment. A second potential benefit is that it can impart skills that may be in demand in the workforce, and that could lead to higher wages, especially early in an individual's working career. That said, there is some evidence that the long-term trajectories of those who focus on CTE in high school may not be as favorable as those who get more general skills and pursue other forms of higher education. The key is not to position the choices as binary, either/or, decisions. Students who participate in CTE in high school may get benefits that include enhanced bridges to postsecondary education. Furthermore, for students for whom college is not palatable, CTE may improve their outcomes over what they would have been in the absence of technical education.

6.What did you learn from other researchers at the Centre for Vocational Educational Research (CVER) Conference and/or at the University College Dublin (UCD) that you think could improve upon the traditional education path in the United States?

The CVER conference was a nice way to reinforce for me the myriad of ways that our neighbors in the EU are thinking about and innovating in education. One of the best reminders I received was that, while CTE doesn’t always carry a negative stigma, the social value of different forms of education is highly variable. What this means to me is that educational policy in the US has to be realistic about how it uses and promotes policies to improve educational and workforce outcomes in the US. It also reminded me that there are more variants on the models we use in the US for technical education, and that there are continued opportunities to learn from those who have been doing this longer than we have.

Dr. Dougherty's research has recently been featured in The Conversation, UConn Today, Brookings Institute and in former Vice President Joe Biden's podcast, Biden's Briefing.

 

EDLR Professors, Jennifer McGarry and Laura Burton, Return as Mentors for Empower Women through Sport Initiative

Agnes Baluka Masajja
Agnes Baluka Masajja, a 2017 Global Sports Mentoring Program Emerging Leader, takes part in a physical training session with fellow emerging leaders at Ambitious Athletics in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of U.S. Dept. of State in cooperation with the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society. Photographer: Jaron Johns)

The Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP)’s Empower Women Through Sports Initiative is an international initiative co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and espnW that partners emerging female leaders from 17 countries with leading executives and experts in the U.S. sports industry.  We are excited to announce that Neag School faculty members Jennie McGarry and Laura Burton will once again be serving in the coming weeks as hosts.

Now in its sixth year, Empower Women Through Sports recognizes female achievement in sport leadership, and aims to empower these emerging leaders to serve their local communities through increasing access to, and opportunities for, women and girls to participate in sports — and, ultimately, ignite change as an ambassador for female athletes around the world.

“What sports has done for me I feel it can do for girls throughout Uganda. ... Sports becomes a platform for a bigger conversation.”

— Agnes Baluka Masajja, Global Sport Mentoring Program Emerging Leader

McGarry and Burton, both professors in the Neag School’s Department of Educational Leadership, were invited back to GSMP to serve as 2017 program mentors for emerging leader Agnes Baluka Masajja, sports tutor at Busitema University and head of Education Commission with the Association of Uganda University Sports. Baluka Masajja is one of 17 women tapped as 2017 GSMP emerging leaders, all of whom have three or more years of professional or volunteer experience with a sport-based development organization. Each selected emerging leader uses this opportunity to explore a key challenge facing girls and women or people with disabilities in her home country.

‘This is my destiny’

Baluka Masajja has always been a natural when it came to sports. She excelled in all her athletic endeavors, including netball, soccer and track and field. However, despite her achievement in sport, her father pressured her to abandon athletics and focus entirely on her academics.

In her featured GSMP emerging leader profile, she explains how she managed to continue her participation in athletics despite her father’s wishes, “I would have to hide when I ran so he wouldn’t find out,” she says. “I would avoid any national competitions or races where there’d be media coverage because I didn’t want to get in trouble. By the time I got to university, I told my dad, ‘This is my career. This is my destiny.’ So he couldn’t refuse me anymore.”

Baluka Masajja is the second GSMP Emerging Leader to be hosted by professors Laura Burton and Jennie McGarry at the Neag School. (Courtesy of U.S. Dept. of State in cooperation with the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society. Photographer: Jaron Johns)

Patriarchal structures in Ugandan society treat men and women very differently in sports. Athletics are seen as part of the natural domain of men. Females in sport often face societal pressure to focus on domestic duties as well as a threat of sexual harassment from male coaches.

Baluka Masajja’s story, however, is different. She broke through barriers and currently serves as a role model for other Ugandan female athletes to do the same. As a sports tutor at Busitema University, she holds positions as a coordinator and supervisor for the university’s 16 athletics programs, only five of which are available for women. The limited number of programs is something she is striving to change. In addition, she serves as head of the Education Commission with the Association of Uganda University Sports, through which she organizes national and international tournaments; coaches workshops for sports trainers and tutors; and hosts seminars and conferences across Uganda.

Baluka Masajja also was a coach for the country’s athletics delegation for the 2015 World University Games in South Korea, and will serve in the same capacity for the 2017 competition in Taipei.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs website, girls who participate in sports are more likely to have higher rates of school retention and participate in society more. “When women and girls can walk on the playing field, they are more likely to step into the classroom, the boardroom, and step out as leaders in society,” the website states.

For Baluka Masajja, this sentiment rings true. “What sports has done for me, I feel it can do for girls throughout Uganda,” she says. “Sports becomes a platform for a bigger conversation.”

“I hope to develop skills related to management and business that will help me contribute to economic growth. I also hope to learn about U.S. sports and nonprofit environments so I may implement similar ideas at home,” explains Baluka Masajja in regards to her goals as a GSMP emerging leader,

After attending next week’s annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit in California, an event that unites female athletes, leaders in sports, and other industry leaders, Baluka Masajja will arrive at UConn to spend three weeks immersed in various learning and networking experiences with McGarry and Burton as her host mentors, who are both experts in gender issues in sport, specifically with marginalized ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

The Neag School will welcome Baluka Masajja at the Department of Educational Leadership General Meeting from 9:45 a.m. to noon on Friday, Oct. 6, in Gentry Room 142 on the UConn Storrs campus, and will share more information on this and other GSMP-related activities in the coming weeks.

Learn more through this featured GSMP video or visit the U.S. Department of State’s GSMP website. Or, check out GSMP on Facebook. Read more about Agnes Baluka Masajja here.