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Sports as a Vehicle for Change

Athletes, teams and organizations at all levels can provide an essential influence to improve race relations and inspire social change.

There are many ways they can use their platforms to raise awareness about injustice, advocate for racial equity and encourage others to take steps to bring about change. For many athletes, this social justice work continues after their playing careers. Athletes view themselves as instrumental members of society and are eager to use their influence, expertise and reach to address inequity. Sports equip athletes with the aptitude, passion and dedication to undertake fundamental social change, reaffirming the enduring words of Nelson Mandela.

"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way little else does." — Nelson Mandela

NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James spoke out against racial injustice at the 2016 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles and urged their fellow athletes to join them in using their platforms to effect change.
American track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fist to protest social injustice during the medal ceremony for the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Their protest, Smith says, "... was a cry for freedom and for human rights. We had to be seen because we couldn't be heard."

Explore the Road to Progress

See how sports have spurred social change throughout history.

Check out our interactive digital timeline, the RISE Road to Progress, which chronicles the intersection of sports and social justice and the important role athletes have played in advancing equity and civil rights throughout history. These pivotal moments represent just some of the countless examples of athletes helping to move society forward.

Take a short quiz on the Road to Progress to test your knowledge.

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What is the Power of Sport?

We asked athletes and sports leaders to tell us how they've seen sport act as a vehicle for social change, and why they believe the athlete's voice is so powerful in driving progress in our society. Hear their stories and perspective as featured on our podcast and from "A Walk In their Shoes," an element of our Champions of Change fan experience.

Candace Parker

WNBA All-Star

Benjamin Watson

Former NFL Player

Bill Rhoden

The Undefeated

Hear Bill Rhoden's full interview on Champions of Change: The RISE Podcast

Be Part of the Change

Take the RISE Pledge to End Racism

Athletes and other sports leaders have stepped up and pledged to fight racism and discrimination. Will you join them? Take the RISE Pledge to End Racism and encourage others to join you by sharing the pledge on social media and tag us @RISEtoWIN (Twitter/Instagram) or @RISEtoWINorg (Facebook) with the #LearnToRISE

Take the Pledge

RISE Perspectives

Without Games, Sports still have Power

By Scott Koenning and Andrew Mac Intosh, Ph.D.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, sports continue to play a vital role in inspiring change and social action.

Recognizing the gravity of COVID-19, and in an effort to protect its players, staff and fans, the NBA suspended its season on March 11. In the coming days, other professional sports leagues followed suit. Their serious action to address the pandemic took over the headlines and impacted U.S. consciousness and perspective related to the virus.

The NBA suspended its season eight days before the country's first statewide "stay-at-home" order was issued by the State of California and five days before the White House introduced its first national social distancing guidelines on March 16. Today, 42 states have issued statewide "stay-at-home" orders and national social distancing guidelines have been expanded and extended.

Sports leagues and athletes have been leading voices and influencers supporting the fight against COVID-19. Through financial contributions, public statements and more, athletes and executives are utilizing sports as a vehicle for change and solidarity in the collective struggle with this crisis.

Many athletes like Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Sydney Wiese, and Serena Williams have shared details of their struggles with the virus and its societal impact. Karl-Anthony Towns also revealed his personal challenges with the virus, and tragically would later lose his mother to COVID-19.

Russell Wilson and Ciara, JJ Watt and Kealia Ohai and Drew Brees are only a few examples of those in the sports world combining to raise millions of dollars for causes related to the crisis. The USTA's Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, the site of the US Open, has been transformed into a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients, as well as a commissary for meal packages for those in need.

The power of these sports voices and actions provides an example of how the platform of sports can be utilized to educate and assist society.

At RISE, we hold the fundamental belief that sports are not only a powerful unifier but also a vehicle for social change. Sports have long made a significant impact on society beyond the confines of the field of play. They can be a powerful unifying force bridging racial and cultural divides. Sports have the potential to be used as a vehicle to educate about differences and a means to expose people to greater gender and racial equity. Playing and learning the games we love can become an effective tool for teaching skills, such as conflict resolution and leadership, and highlighting new perspectives. Furthermore, sports showcase diverse role models for younger athletes and fans.

The universal appeal of sports has provided a mechanism to address current societal issues, showcase unity and provide hope. The RISE Road to Progress displayed above highlights a few of these iconic moments.

Which of these moments speak most to you? Share and tag us @RISEtoWIN with the #LearnToRISE.

Scott Koenning is RISE's Director, Programs, and Dr. Andrew Mac Intosh is RISE's Vice President, Curriculum.

Learn More to Do More

Check out this activity on Sports as a Vehicle for Change from RISE's curriculum. See more examples of professional athletes using sports as a vehicle for social change and learn how you can use your own platform to make a difference in your community.

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