Athletes as Activists: Speaking Up is a Start, Next Steps Should Look Like This

Bringing attention and awareness to a social cause can be extremely difficult. Luckily for professional athletes, the modern-era of social media and a sharing news ecosystem - messages have never had a stronger platform.

Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James at the 2016 ESPY's.

Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James at the 2016 ESPY's.


Last night at ESPN's annual awards show, the ESPY's, four of the most well-known NBA players: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James -  started the show with collective strong words and pleas around an end to violence, an end to aggressive racism and an ask for other athletes to get further involved in their communities. Powerful, inspiring, appropriate for the current climate and should be the beginning of the action that is actually needed.

What should athletes do next? I'll give you a few modern-day athlete examples below of how a platform can be used for real change.

During the 1994 Lillehamer Winter Olympics, Norwegian speedskater Johann Olav Koss used his platform to bring awareness to the then Non-Profit, Olympic Aid which brought sport and play programs to children in post-civil war regions. Johann dedicated his Olympic performance and donated his Olympic winnings to Olympic Aid and then, at a press conference, called on all of his countrymen to make some sort of donation to the cause. Within one week, Johann raised over $18M for the organization and started a 20+ year movement which is still going on today with Johann being one of the pioneering leaders in Sport For Development and Peace.

Johann founded the global humanitarian organization, Right To Play in 2002 which I had the privilege of working for. One of our largest challenges in the U.S. was aware-ness raising around Sport For Development - using sport curriculum for social change in some of the most marginalized areas around the world. My job was to bring athletes together as ambassadors for Right To Play and use their image, name, media platform and willingness to help us inform and educate people about our programs. In large scale awareness raising we would hope to not only attract more donors, but also encourage potential policy makers as well as other non-profits to use sport and play curriculum as a way to tackle social issues.

During the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turino, Joey Cheek did something similar to Johann. Joey was appalled by the civil war in Sudan and the lack of attention by global governments around the genocide in Darfur. He also dedicated his Olympics to the issue, donated his medal winnings and raised upwards of $750,000 for organizations supporting lobbying efforts around the issue. Joey then went on to speak out against the situation in Darfur along with George Clooney and Don Cheadle surrounding the release of the documentary film Darfur Now.

Look at the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team just over the last year. They have used their platforms to raise awareness around the gender inequality issues that they are facing in their sport, mobilizing communities, using the media, taking action through policy makers and have made further movement in change. Even Abby Wambach spoke about it at the ESPY's last night in her award acceptance speech. If you've watched Abby since the World Cup last Summer, every time she speaks or does any media, like in this Huffington Post article, she controls the content and turns it into a conversation about advocating for equal pay and equal rights. It's been brilliant to watch her and see her definitively make her post career about this issue engaging her brands, strategic partners and even mentors like Sheryl Sandberg.

Speaking out at last night's ESPY's was a great start for these athletes in bringing more passionate, heartfelt awareness to their causes of racism and violence, something I love to see and see more of.

But what are they going to do next?

Making a call-to-action needs to be followed up by actual action now that they have built a strong community of supporters around them. Last week I wrote about how athletes can be social activists which is a "how to" on how athletes can move forward with their cause.

I was thrilled about last night's public display of awareness, but also a little bit disappointed that there wasn't a next step. When Johann called for change, he had an immediate next step, so did Joey and so has Abby. There were millions of people tuned into the ESPY's last night and millions more hearing about it today with mainstream media stories covering the show.  If you are asking someone to do something and have millions ready to take action, it would be ideal to have something actionable in place.

As Carmelo Anthony wrote in this Guardian Op-Ed yesterday, "So what next? I don’t have the answer. Nobody does. But what we can do is start bringing a continuous awareness and keep this conversation going."

The part about nobody having answers, that's actually not true.

There are so many people and organizations who know what the next steps are whether it's John Lewis who has advocated for Civil Rights his entire career, Deray McKesson who is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement or the dozens and dozens of grassroots organizations doing work on the ground to bridge communities together. There are people who have the answers all throughout the country and need the partnership of strong voices of athletes like Carmelo, Dwyane, Chris and LeBron to lobby, advocate and mobilize for change in partnership.

Athletes should not expect themselves to make social change on their own. They need to engage social teammates who build their careers around activism to effectively sustain the change that we all know is needed.









Professional Athletes Are the Strongest Advocates for Social Change

Are you mad? Because I am - mad and disgusted as hell that our country still suffers from so much violence - a symptom of the continual dysfunctional racist ideologies existing at the core of America. Writing here, posting on my social media accounts, being involved with an international diplomatic organization and keeping this a topic among friends will only go so far. I don't have millions or even thousands of followers, not much reach. But those who do, professional athletes - those who have influence with large fan followings and a strong media presence have power to mobilize and make change and have done it before. If you think about it, pro athletes have been trained their entire lives to strategize and implement around goals.

Today Carmelo Anthony used his platform to create a strong call-to-action to his fellow athletes and I'm sure to the millions who follow him. All which deserves recognition, applause and movement. Paraphrasing below and channeling the civil rights advocacy of Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jim Brown, posting the photo above from 45 years ago:

"I'm calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge. Go to your local officials, leaders, congressman, assemblymen/assemblywoman and demand change. There's NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge. We can't worry about what endorsements we gonna lose or whose going to look at us crazy. I need your voices to be heard. We can demand change. We just have to be willing to. THE TIME IS NOW. IM all in. Take Charge. Take Action. DEMAND CHANGE. Peace7 #StayMe7o"

So the good news here is that the modern day Athlete Advocates wanting to mobilize together can learn from those who have come before them and use their incredibly powerful platforms, I'm not just talking about social media, but their influence on traditional media, brands, teams and fan bases- to all group together to make a change. Control the content and conversation.

Here's a super quick game-plan for athletes (and anyone) to use:

  • Clearly Define Your Outcome - What is that you want to achieve with your advocacy? What change do you want to make and, if you are asking those to be involved, what is it exactly that they will be able to do? What is the message consistency that can be used?
  • Create an Engaged Leadership Group - Lending names to causes is fine and dandy, but how engaged are your fellow leaders? Will they show up to rallies, make phone calls, take meetings or just send out tweets and Facebook posts? Are your cohorts putting their money where their mouth is or are they just doing it for some media fluff. If the latter, politely say "Thank you, but we're good" and make sure to get engaged leaders involved with you who will get their hands dirty.
  • Lean Hard on Allies - who are the other experts in the field that you are advocating for and what work are they doing on the ground? How can lending your voice, influence and media power help what they are already working towards? Is it Senators, Governors, NGO's and other social activists who do this as full-time work? 
  • Strategize on most Effective Media Outreach - Where are the best and most effective media platforms to publicly call on others to take action? Athletes personal social media sites are pretty perfect nowadays and other media platforms are great with Op-Ed pieces. Is this just for the sports audience or a broader fan base? Could always be multiple outlets and platforms to get the word out.
  • What Does Success Look Like? - How will you know that your actions worked? What is your timeline? Who is keeping track (since you have a more-than-full time job already). These should all be part of the strategy so that there is follow through and agreements with whomever you are asking to help with social change.

Here's the thing about advocacy, standing up for issues and making change that is incredibly relatable to athletes everywhere, professional or not - YOU HAVE TO HAVE A GAME PLAN.

If you truly want to make change, there needs to be a solid strategy in place around a strong team with strong leadership to keep everyone on board and moving forward. Completely analogous to sports - the translatable skills are already in place. Would you ever just go out and state "I Want to Win a Championship" and then never have a strategy? No. So don't do that with your advocacy work either.

It's been 45 years since a powerful group of athletes have come together to demand change as it relates to racial issues in this country. Some may think it's been too long, but at the end of the day, we should be proud that we have a powerful group ready to fight for what they know is right and take a risk at losing financially, to gain ethically....exponentially. 


O.J.: Made In America Made Me Love ESPN Again

Admittedly I started to become disenchanted with ESPN's 30 for 30 series. I felt like it was over-saturated, films were lost (including an important one on the Global NGO, Right To Play by Frank Marshall) and the content only scratched the surface of deeper social issues told through sports.  This might be a shocker to some as my career IS the sports industry and in recent years I've been writing and producing sports documentaries mainly in the social issue space.

The reason I was getting frustrated with ESPN - and let me clarify by saying that some of the nicest and best people in sports are good friends and long-time ESPN'ers -  the frustration was that I wanted them to do better, be better and use their global platform to really tell sports stories of social significance. And not to play to the corporate pressure of sugar-coating journalism. ESPN wasn't really taking on the heavy-hitting responsibility and I was disappointed. They backed out of "League of Denial" about concussion issues, there was a watered down version of coverage around gender inequality in women's soccer, not enough attention is given to the good work that most current and former athletes do outside of their sport on a daily basis. I just felt that the journalism was skewing more towards sensationalism than fairness. What really sent me over the edge was the recent ESPN The Magazine cover story on how Tiger Woods was using some unconventional coping methods after losing his father. The two decades of tireless work Tiger has done through his foundation was completely left out. The disgust was mounting.

Some might have felt my finger-wagging, the SMH's (shaking my head) and frustration about not covering these sorts of humanitarian social stories and narratives. The judgement was certainly building in a not-so-positive way towards ESPN. Seeing the marketing and knowing it was coming out, I hadn't planned on watching it. But after the 10th article singing it's praises,  I was overwhelmed by the mega-media attention of "OJ: Made In America". Particularly a Vanity Fair article that stated this 5-part docu-series could be this generation's "Roots". So I pessimistically opened up my ESPN app on Apple TV and started to watch. To my pleasant - loved to be proven wrong- surprise, I have to overwhelmingly agree with Vanity Fair: that this is one of the most important pieces of film to watch as it relates to race relations in the US in recent memory.

Here's a short story to tell you why:  one of my best friends- who is also a multi-generational Jewish Angeleno like myself, but not a sports fan - said she watched part of the ESPN series and couldn't wait to watch the rest. While we were sitting on the grass at LACMA Jazz Friday last night surrounded by the gorgeous culturally diverse faces of Los Angeles, she and I spoke about how we were shocked to learn that there were such deep racist ideologies here in Los Angeles going back decades. The real shock of it was that the disturbing discrimination in the city's government was taking place less than 20 miles from where we grew up deep in the San Fernando Valley and we had no idea, we didn't feel it or hear it despite both going to incredibly culturally diverse schools. We spoke about how "Straight Outta Compton" was also an incredibly important piece of film to understand LAPD's abusively discriminant relationship with LA's black community. And how films like "Boyz N The Hood" should be re-released to remind and teach a new generation of the unreal discrimination that took place for decades for the black community in LA.

Three other times this week I had conversations with people about this series - my Jewish aunt in her 60's living in San Diego, a Jamaican doctor in his 40's who grew up in an affluent U.S. east-coast neighborhood and a black comedian from Alabama in his 30's - who all felt like the docu-series opened their eyes to racial issues they didn't know existed. All exemplifying how this story transcends sports, race, geography and age. It is hitting the hearts and minds of every person watching it.

The project obviously tells the story of the rise and fall of an American hero in O.J. Simpson. We are all aware of the skeleton of the story through the 1994 murder trial. However, the way Ezra Edelman blatantly laid the foundation of racism in the U.S. and Los Angeles leading up to and juxtaposing O.J.'s college and professional career was just beautifully executed, so well done. There was no dancing around issues both in what other black athletes were facing or how O.J. didn't want to identify as even being black while other prominent black athletes of his era like Muhammed Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar risked their careers for black civil rights advocacy.

This ESPN series - much like FX's American Crime Story series - then meticulously illustrated how race became the key component of the murder trial and the strategy that the defense eventually used to acquit Simpson of murder. Race, racism, racist words, the depiction of O.J. being a part of the black community and playing with a black vs. white emotion around racism were all used in a tug-of-war like manner to win the case. These narratives were never addressed during the trial probably because of the prosecution's unwillingness to challenge this false illustration for fear of being accused of being racist themselves.

So a hearty bravo to ESPN, Conor Schnell, Ezra Edelman and everyone who was part of this project. Being lucky enough to have incredibly talented filmmakers mentor me in this industry, I've learned that the point of film is to move the audience, teach them something they didn't know, enlighten them and make them think differently about themselves. OJ: Made In America has done this. ESPN is finally using it's broad, strong shoulders to take on social issues as told through sports stories. I hope it continues because these stories are too important not to be told.   It's refreshing to see these truths being revealed now, 20+ years later and especially by a sports media giant acknowledging that there is a greater social responsibility in fairly telling this story.





In Times of Tragedy, Do We Turn To Sports?

As I fumed in disgust, yet eerily not surprised on Sunday reading the horrific headlines of the terrorist and hate crime acts in Orlando, a familiar thought crept into my mind "How can sports help to resolve these issues?"

Admittedly it has been some time since I've written here. End of the semester proffesoring my inaugural Athlete Speak course at USC's impressive Annenberg School of Communication, pushing forward on my documentary projects in sports + social issues, advising a start-up in the sports + social change space using crowdfunding and taking some time to delve into my personal philanthropy of international diplomatic relations and human rights issues had me slightly busy over the last couple of months.

In general, nothing compelled me to sit down and write down thoughts I had to share up until now. Conversations about a marginalized group of hopeless young men and women all susceptible to ISIS's well-thought-out online propaganda were running through my mind. Digital media that is apparently as well written as TIME and the Wall Street Journal have seeped into these malleable minds with unfortunate outcomes.

As usual, I turned to sports and as it turns out, many others have as well. Some might call me posturing on my optimistic "Sports Can Save The World" soapbox, but, hey, why not? Influences of athletes, sports teams, sports programs, sports curriculum, sports initiatives have all positively impacted some pretty serious social issues like gender inequality, poverty, health & disease, co-existence. So why not counter-terrorism?

What is the counter-terrorist act that might mitigate this extreme violence? Could this be analogous, at some level to how gang violence in Los Angeles all but disappeared in the mid to late 90's after social programs that included sports were implemented? To some, this might sound too simple and to others, this might not compare. On a global level, I think it does make sense. Building support surrounding basic grass-roots efforts that involves schools, parents, communities to target at-risk men and women through sport can work and has worked.

On a small scale, 5 different sports teams based in Orlando swiftly mobilized to raise funds and awareness for the victims and families of the attacks. Orlando's professional teams – the Magic, Lions, Pride, Predators and Solar Bears — will be selling T-shirts bearing the "#OrlandoUnited" slogan. Net proceeds will go to the City of Orlando's OneOrlando Fund at

Could you imagine a more well-thought-out plan to reach out to some of these men and women who feel that they need to join an extremist group just to feel like they belong somewhere? Sure, gun laws and anti-terrorist legislation will certainly help, but there is an obvious systemic issue of feeling left out, not part of a group. Have you ever met an athlete who said that they felt like they didn't feel like they were part of a community? Maybe this is where we might start.





Hey Sports Media: Please Check Your Facts (Athletes, Too!)

The last few days of coverage around the death and tragedy of Will Smith have brought up a lot of emotions from players, the city of New Orleans and the national media. Let me say that I am glad these issues around violence are getting attention, incredibly sad for the reason. But, one thing that I am discouraged by is that some of the narrative is just plain FALSE and VERY FALSE.

The lack of fact-checking and really doing deep-down research on what you're reporting or even what your interviewees are speaking is alarming and I'm not a trained journalist. I am 100% behind athletes being advocates for causes, but if you are going to use your platform to stand up for something, go on several national media outlets, then do your homework please. At least for the sake of getting the so-desperately-needed attention around social issues.

Here's what happened, and let me preface this by saying that I do not know Tyrann Mathieu personally, but he seems like a wonderful young man and at the core, I am so glad he is speaking out and mad as hell about the murder of former New Orleans Saint (and a former client of mine) Will Smith.

Tyrann went on a national radio show with Mike Hill and Kirk Morrison to talk about Will, New Orleans and his disgust over the violence in New Orleans. All totally understandable. HERE is the link to the interview if you want to catch it. It was emotional and compelling and wonderful and so much of what he was saying was true with the uptick in crime and the city at the brink of a racial and class divide with some numbers worse than pre-Katrina. 

Except he was not factually correct when he mentioned that New Orleans isn't doing anything to help the youth of the community. And my head almost exploded because he missed a huge opportunity to create awareness and support for some very important social programs going on. They are not perfect, but there is a HUGE effort going on that's getting no attention.

So here they are:

NOLA for Life - the city's 36 initiative comprehensive program to reduce crime and homicide. One of the initiatives is called Midnight Basketball where they provide basketball leagues between 8pm to 12am for young men in underprivileged areas around NOLA (I did a short film about I know all about it).

LAUREUS USA + Mercedes Benz - has a $10M investment in youth sports programs in NOLA that gets no coverage at all. They have a #SportForGood weekend every year around the NFL opening weekend

Please, if you are going to cover and advocate for social issues in sports using sports media, platforms, athlete voices and bringing subjects to the forefront of conversation, make sure you have your facts straight so you can truly create social change and have a strong call-to-action.

Mike Hill asked "what can we do?" Tyrann didn't have answer, but if he just knew about these programs, he could have so easily said: "Get out there and support these organizations. Let everyone you know about them and bring more attention to help our city and children so these tragedies don't happen."



When you know the Athlete who was Tragically Killed

"So awful about Will. Just tragic and senseless. Are you OK?" was the text that I woke up to on Sunday morning from a close friend and colleague. Immediately I knew it was about former New Orleans Saints DE, Will Smith. And my heart dropped hoping that it wasn't what I thought. But it was. Will Smith was shot and killed in his beloved city of New Orleans right next to his wife Rockie who was also shot wailing "Please God help him" as the paramedics took her away on a stretcher.

The first headlines were "multiple gunshots in a traffic dispute." In the coming days, weeks and months I am sure there will be so much said in the media about the investigation and what the New Orleans Police Department find. Seems like the gentleman who shot Will and his wife Rockie stayed at the scene and has already been charged and that will be part of the closure that is needed. 

For this very, very deep loss however, the City of New Orleans and more devastating, the family, friends and Will's beloved wife and children will never fully recover. The loss is too huge for so many reasons. Will was a pillar of strength for the city and the entire community for the past 12 years since arriving.

When you personally know the athlete who has been shot and killed, the headlines become all that more piercing when you read them. I represented Will as his publicist for his first 5 years in the NFL before leaving personal PR around 2010. And like so many of my other clients, Will was so special. More special than most though. He walked the walk and talked the talk. He called out those who did not and expected the best from everyone around him. He had the wisdom of someone three times his age and was always looking to better himself.

The sting of the loss is deep when you know the person behind what the media covers. Everything you're reading about Will and the work he and his wife Rockie have done in the New Orleans community for over a decade is really what they were about. Together, they were pillars of the New Orleans community and their own families and they welcomed that with open arms.

Will wanted that responsibility to give back and be a leading voice almost automatically when Hurricane Katrina hit and the team, city and community were looking for that calm in the storm and the "everything is going to be okay, we will come back stronger" sentiment to hold onto. Will was that rock and welcomed that role. That is why this loss is so much larger than the NFL.

The flooding of memories of stories we did together from the Diving with Sharks in Hawaii for ESPN, Cooking with Emeril Lagasse for Sports Illustrated and walking barefoot on the grounds of the Super Dome before it was open in 2007 with Fox Sports...these are everlasting. The times when the cameras were off were even better.

He was deeply philosophical and loved to be a citizen of the world traveling outside of the U.S. whenever he could. We would spend hours on the phone talking about every topic under the sun. He was passionate and committed about it all.

My best memory by far though was his wedding with Rockie in June of 2008. There must have been 400-500 people in attendance and they made sure every single person had the best time, ate well and were all up dancing the entire night. They were just natural, warm leaders of New Orleans.

My heart truly breaks for Rockie and for their children. There is nothing that can repair the damage that has been done but to honor the man that Will Smith was by continuing his great work that he lived by every single day and to try to channel his leadership in your own way.


U.S. Women's Soccer Complaint: Gender Inequality a Family Affair

For those of you who follow me or know me, you know that the first short film I wrote and produced, "An Equal Playing Field" was about Women's Soccer + Gender Inequality around the Women's World Cup last June. Participant Media's online site (a non-sports studio) fully believed that this content was IMPORTANT and stood behind me and my production partners in telling this story of how Women's Soccer faces gender inequality issues when no other network would take a shot at it. 

The short film, that is meant to be one episode in a 6-part global docu-series, took about a year of research, pre-production work and dozens of hours of interviews to understand not only the history of why Women's Soccer has struggled so much in the U.S. to have year-long sustainability in their programs and leagues, but to also understand what happens around the rest of the world. In reality, the U.S. Women's National Team does have it better comparatively speaking to most of the other Women's Football (Soccer) programs around the world. That's kind of pathetic seeing that some of the statistics say they get paid 4 times less than than the men's team. Some Football Associations give zero to their Women's Soccer programs. ZERO.

At least in the U.S., there is a societal belief that women and girls should play soccer and that it's their right to do so where many, many other countries around the world don't believe. There hasn't been much done about it. So who is to blame?


Here's the breakdown:

FIFA/GOVERNING BODIES: Is the tone set by these global over-seers and governing bodies? Yes, technically speaking, but who holds them accountable? That's an honest question. There doesn't seem to be an official checks & balances system in place. If there are rules that Football Associations are to give a certain percentage of their allotted monies to Women's Soccer development, no one seems to care or get punished when this doesn't happen.

MEDIA: There is an obvious lack of coverage by not only American media but global media on Women's Soccer (and most Women's Sports) and no one is stepping up to make Women's Sports a regular part of the sports news or programming breakdown to create a cultural shift. Where are the executives at the top demanding to put more programming in? And there doesn't seem to be repercussions for that either from shareholders even though the big sports networks are losing viewers and money in the millions. It's obviously not about the ratings as the Women's World Cup was THE most watched soccer match of all time? Why didn't the ESPN's and Fox Sports' of the world step up to capitalize on that? Not about the RIGHT thing to do, it's obviously the smart business move to parade the women's team out there. 

SPONSORS: This aspect seems to be the largest influencer (or non-influencer) of all. Every which way we turned on producing "An Equal Playing Field" and asked the question of how the culture of Women's Soccer would change, the answer was 100% about whatever the sponsors say. It's not only the sponsors of FIFA & the World Cup but also the sponsors of US Soccer, Women's Team and the Men's Team. If the large, deep-pocketed corporate sponsors don't seem to care or even activate around these large global events then the governing bodies and the media also don't care.

Capitalism at it's worst that might only see a change in direction if some sort of version of a Modern Family steps up to disrupt the bottom lines or create such a PR nightmare that the discriminatory culture at the top has no option but to change.




Damned if You Do and if you Don't: Sharing the Good Sports Stories

Positive stories in sports are infinite. They are truly and always will be never-ending. From every pro athlete, to team, the hundreds of NGO's doing groundbreaking work around the world and then the everyday amateur athlete stories: The Bench Is DEEP on it all (because why not use a sports pun here!).

Like the multi-million dollar question of why soccer isn't popular in the U.S. (that's for another blog), WHY aren't the sports stories for good told more often?

Recently I have asked this question to anyone and everyone who I come across. My brilliant guests and students at USC, the new fellow in my spin class, the former Sports Illustrated editor in New York. I'll probably continue to ask until someone tells me an answer that makes sense to me.

When I listen to their answers that range from "it just doesn't make money" or "fans don't want to hear those stories" none of that sits well with me. The most disturbing answer is that when athletes talk about the good work that they do in the community, it comes off as too much self-promotion.

Here's what goes through my head for each:

1. Comes off as self promotion: So then change the way the story is told. If the athlete doesn't feel comfortable promoting themselves, which should be just the draw of the story and not the guts of it, let's hear how the work is positively impacting the community that is benefiting from the efforts. This is where the creative comes in and great writers, producers and collaborators shape those stories so it doesn't seem insincere and self-promotional.

2. Fans aren't interested: This is categorically NOT true. Take 30 people and do an impromptu live survey. Ask these people if they just don't want to hear positive sports stories. There might be a couple in the room who just don't care (who are obviously not good human beings...I joke :)) but most will care no matter of age, gender or background. And if you're surveying a room full of millenials and millenial-minded (like myself), the chances are that they will ALL care about the good work that's happening. 

3. Those stories don't make money or bring in ratings: Really? Because that's not what happened when Oprah started to tell these stories. If you think about Oprah's trajectory and what it was that set her apart from the Jerry Springer's and Sally Jesse Raphael's it was the human interest story and telling a damn good story around it. So this is also not true.

Seems to me that what the sports industry needs are better story tellers. We have a handful out there and I do consider myself as a part of that group, but we need more and we need advocates all-around to encourage better story telling so that these good stories in sports get through. They are the rule, not the exception. They happen more often than not and should get their time in the light.



The Missing Peyton Manning Story: His Tireless Work in the Community.

One of the greatest athletes and quarterbacks of our generation retired today. Peyton Manning's legacy on-the-field in the NFL is epic and is probably only seen once in a generation. Media channels from the mainstream CBS Morning Show to the regular ESPN multi-channel shows and platforms spent hours and hours covering Manning and his history as an NFL quarterback, the recent HGH scandal. Easy. Great. Thorough? Not so much.

What a missed opportunity for media to tell the full scope of who Peyton Manning truly is as a player and a charitable man. Unfortunately, this is the absolute norm in media coverage: the positive stories are never the ones that are emphasized and they are rarely told. Personally, not to knock the brilliant peers I have in the media, but I think this is grossly irresponsible journalism. And I'm now so tired and relentless about the lack of this kind of coverage that I've become a staunch advocate for the positive stories in sports. 

Here's the thing, when it comes to some of the world's billionaire philanthropists like Gates, Zuckerberg, Buffett and Bloomberg, we know their humanitarian work. Most likely due to the push of their own media and PR staff making sure to control that narrative during interviews. But why don't we consistently know of the good work athletes do in their community along with the sensationalized scandalous stories? This has been one of the more frustrating topics of my career.

In their lead-up coverage to his retirement announcement this morning, ESPN asked "Who is Peyton Manning?" and then they launched into the HGH scandal. "When you think about a player, you want to think about him in totality." said Howard Bryant on Sports Center. And then NOTHING about his Peyback Foundation that he's been the President of since 1999. Really? REALLY? When you talk about the bad and there is opportunity to talk about the good, why wouldn't you do that? I'm not just singling out ESPN and Howard Bryant, (who I do not know personally and I'm sure Bryant is a great man himself) I am saying that this is everyone in the media who is responsible for missing this side of the story.

So because others are not covering his positive impact, I'm going to give it to you:

1. The PeyBack Foundation has had over $10M of impact on at risk youth.

2. Community work includes programs in Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee and Louisiana.

3. Over $1M in grants were given to 144 non-profits in 2015 for youth sports.

4. Peyton Manning's Children Hospital in St. Vincent, Indiana has been a partnership for 17 years.

5. Under the Foundation, the PeyBack Awards gives a $5,000 grant to a current NFL player's own personal charity.

And these are just a few of the highlights of the GREAT and IMPORTANT work he and his foundation do in the community. For more information, here is his web site

Under full disclosure, I have zero relationship with Peyton or the Mannings. I just think that these stories should be told. Cover the GOOD and the BAD as fair and responsible journalism.




FIFA Reforms: Good for Soccer, Great for the World

I know, I know...that's a pretty hefty subject line and I'm feeling a handful of eyes rolling back in their heads like "c'mon Erit, isn't that too much of a fluffy, full of BS statement? In some ways, YES and in some ways Hold On Your Judgement for Just One Sec and I'll explain.

A new FIFA President was voted in today in Zurich. It wasn't in the U.S. Headlines like if it were a new NFL, NBA or MLB Commissioner, but it was in every headline of the rest of the planet (I know this, I have the SkyNews app on my AppleTV). What was also reported was that FIFA voted to approve on ALL reforms which I include in an excerpt at the bottom.

It's pretty obvious why this is great for soccer. But why is this truly GREAT for the world? This is why: Soccer is THE world's most popular sport by far. Hopefully you know this by now. The governing body of the world's most popular sport made a very powerful and bold statement on some things like financial transparency, but THE most important humanitarian gesture they made in today's vote was that they are officially saying, very publicly,  the development of women's soccer AND women is very important.

This one gesture will be the first powerful domino to fall in a positive way towards all of the other Football Associations, corporations and countries who have neglected women's football and women around the world.

You might think to yourself, "Well, nothing is wrong with Women's Soccer. Look at all of the attention it gets." Not true whatsoever. The USWNT has it pretty great here in the U.S. but out of the other 211 Football Associations, women do not have it so great. They rarely get enough funding to practice or even compete and travel. Corporations don't pay attention to them and they rarely even get media coverage. Hard to imagine since names like Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan are household athletes by now.

The reforms are closer to having a positive impact on helping more women around the world through the development of soccer and beyond for women.

So today, FIFA took a step in the right direction not just for soccer, but for the world. Really.


Here's a great breakdown from BBC Sports:

What are the reforms?

Disclosure of salaries

This will happen on an annual basis for the Fifa president, all Fifa council members, the secretary general and relevant chairpersons of independent standing and judicial committees.

Presidents limited to three terms of four years

This applies to the Fifa president, Fifa council members and members of the audit and compliance committee and of the judicial bodies. Sepp Blatter served five terms as Fifa president dating back to 1998.

Separation of political and managerial functions

The elected Fifa council will replace the executive committee and will be responsible for setting the organisation's overall strategic direction. The general secretariat will oversee the operational and commercial actions needed to implement the strategy.

Promotion of women in football

A minimum of one female representative will be elected as a council member per confederation.

Human rights enshrined in Fifa statutes

Standing on the High School Football Sidelines of Racial Co-Existence & Gender Equality

When I was a little girl, my Dad was a head high school football coach at Grant High School in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. He would bring me to practice a lot during the Summer time and have me on the sidelines at Friday night home games. I wasn't exactly the little girl from "Remember the Titans" but let's just say that I never had a hard time holding my own among the men who seemed to be giants on the field.

Grant was a school that bused in kids from other parts of Los Angeles at that time. The team had boys from every racial background that was the melting-pot mix that made up LA back then and I never really noticed well since I was 5-years old and all and usually in pig-tails.

Why is this important now and why am I starting my first blog with this story?

Now that I have spent the past 15 years working in the sports industry in various positions as it relates to athlete representation and advocacy, I look back and realize that this experience as a little girl was one that not only shaped my thoughts on how I felt more than comfortable in a "big-man's world" but how I looked at everyone as equal no matter the racial background. And this became the norm to me all through the exposure of a very mixed race high school football team, seeing how they all treated one another like true teammates and brothers. 

My Dad resigned as a coach around 1989 or so and has since been an incredibly successful "Dr. Phil-type" psychologist. I have come back around to those memories a lot recently thinking about why there isn't more attention paid to using sports as a social change tool.

I'm also asked quite often if I've ever felt uncomfortable being the only woman in a room or meeting. My answer is: NOT ONCE have I ever felt uncomfortable, quite the opposite actually. Through these experiences as a little one, not only have I always felt included as a woman but I also never thought negatively about other races and cultural groups.

Funny how my father's decision to just "casually" put me on the sidelines of a high school football team led to a difference of ideologies than what's portrayed in the media. To this day, whenever I stand on a football field, I think about all of those young men who were all part of the same team.