RISE releases report on athlete activism in 2016 Study presents 6 themes of activism, 5 recommendations for best practices

February 3, 2017

HOUSTON – The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) today released a report evaluating the reach and impact of activist athletes in 2016 and issuing recommendations for next steps and best practices.The report, “From Protest to Progress: Athlete Activism in 2016,” was released as part of a second annual Super Bowl Town Hall event, “From Protest to Progress: The Power of Sports to Improve Race Relations.” RISE and the NFL presented the town hall, which was hosted by Texas Southern University, supported by The Players’ Tribune and broadcast live on SiriusXM’s Business Radio powered by the Wharton School channel 111.

RISE is an unprecedented alliance of professional sports leagues, organizations, athletes, educators, media networks and sports professionals using sports to bring people together to promote understanding, respect and equality. Through public awareness campaigns and educational programming, RISE aims to improve race relations.

The report was authored by Dr. Andrew Mac Intosh, RISE; Dr. Scott Pierce, Illinois State University; Dr. Daniel Taradash, New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum; and Dr. Karl Erickson, Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, Michigan State University.

“Our report is designed to evaluate the impact of activism, share best practices and provide recommendations to athletes, coaches, owners and others in the sports industry, as well as the general public, on how we can best ensure this work to promote a better world is impactful and sustainable,” Benson said. “The ‘what comes next’ part is the most significant as athletes and sports fans seek to move from words to action to engage in meaningful social change.”

The research is a survey of more than 225 examples of athlete activism in the latter half of 2016. Among those, the report identifies six themes of activism:

  • Protest – Actions that intentionally flouted, violated or dismissed established rules and conventions.
  • Public statement – Spoken or written communication used by an individual, team or organization to address specific issues or grievances around social justice issues.
  • Special apparel – Players and organizations using special apparel (themed cleats, shirts, etc.) to bring attention to social justice causes.
  • Collective action – Actions demonstrating a sense of unity and solidarity to support social justice causes.
  • Community outreach/policy change – Engaging stakeholders involved in social justice work with an expressed goal of bringing about sustained change.
  • Financial contributions – Players and organizations making financial gifts to individuals and groups that were aligned to their social justice initiatives.

The report offers five recommendations for athletes, teams and leagues to consider implementing in 2017 and beyond to ensure any ongoing effort to promote social change is impactful and sustainable:

  • Education: On the Issues, Tactics and History. There are benefits to creating increased opportunities for athletes to learn about policy reforms and solutions to the issues they care about.
  • Internal: Space for Discussion, Perspective Sharing and Solution Building. Athletes and the sports industry as a whole can benefit by creating a private platform for athletes to discuss among themselves or with mentors the challenges of having to navigate the varied expectations, roles and goals they have for themselves as players and as activists.
  • External: Infrastructure for Collaboration, Information, Training and Strategy. It is critical that athletes engaged in seeking social change have a network of support not just from their teammates but their team ownership, league and others in the sports industry.
  • Engagement: Community Leaders and Beyond. Athletes engaging in activism can bolster their effectiveness through developing strong alliances with key stakeholders in their communities. These stakeholders include law enforcement, youth, community activists, grassroots organizations, lawmakers and policy leaders.
  • Moving from Protest to Action: Study Impact, Provide Feedback and Stay Organic. For protest, or any form of activism, to lead to sustainable change, it must be coupled with tangible next steps that are informed and supported by the communities in which they work.

A one-page summary of the report and the complete report can be downloaded here.

At the town hall event, a two-part panel discussion reviewed lessons learned from the activist athlete in the 2016 NFL season and proposed solution-oriented next steps for the sports industry to drive social change. Participants included Johnson Bademosi of the Detroit Lions, Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks, Anquan Boldin of the Detroit Lions, Andrew Hawkins of the Cleveland Browns, James Ihedigbo of the Buffalo Bills, Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles, Rashad Jennings of the New York Giants, Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets, Roland Martin of TV One’s News One Now, Josh McCown of the Cleveland Browns, Glover Quin of the Detroit Lions, Michael Thomas of the Miami Dolphins, NFL Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams and Benjamin Watson of the Baltimore Ravens.

Founded in 2015 by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross, RISE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the unifying power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress. To date, RISE has provided events and programs in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Washington, D.C.