There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about sports and how they have shaped my life. Without sports, I’m not sure where I would be, but I can guess I would have either ended up in the military, jail or prison. Growing up in the south side of Chicago, sports were a safe space for me. A place where I found acceptance, confidence, success and so much more. Safety means a lot to me because it was a luxury for me growing up. I know what it feels like to feel afraid every day of your life for years wondering what or who would hurt you. It is because of this that I have committed my life to a mission. A mission that guides me every day to take action and be accountable to the world. My mission is simple, but not easy. As a man, father, husband, Christian and leader, I co-create a world of LOVE, ACCEPTANCE and SAFETY for all through fearless and courageous leadership.
In this chapter of my life, I am focusing my mission on sports.
The impact that sports has on us is unexplainable. For some, it’s a religion. For others, the thought of their favorite sports has the emotional weight to bring them to tears of joy or sorrow. This always leads me to think about both the gold and the shadow of sports. Let me explain. Everything has a gold side and a shadow side, or in other words, a positive and a negative. The gold of sports is all the fun experiences and gifts that they provide us. The shadow of sports is the opposite. The times where we learn our teams or organizations have failed us. The part of sports that we want to hide and repress.
In recent years, the shadow side of sports has been brought into the light with more and more cases of abuse and misconduct happening all over the world. Unfortunately, we have a number of incidents to point to as examples. Two of the more recent incidents have come out of the National Women’s Soccer League and the Chicago Blackhawks organization. These cases are examples that are all too familiar. Both of these organizations are under scrutiny from athletes for turning a blind eye to physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse. This is the shadow of sports. I am sick and tired of seeing these articles week in and week out. It has to stop, but the only way to do that is to hold everybody accountable for protecting each other.
I hope we get to a point one day where there is never a second thought to report an incident of sexual abuse, assault or harassment of anyone, at any age. Another hope is that the protocols for reporting and the processes for investigating a report are carried out regardless of who the respondent is. My hope is that the awareness work that has been done in this space is allowing the claimants in recent stories, like the one from the NWSL and the NHL, to bravely come forward and retell their stories. I’m optimistic that the work we have all done is simultaneously helping to curb these inappropriate behaviors from occurring. Moreover, I also believe we have a societal issue around protecting adults and prioritizing winning at all costs.
The hardest thing for me to wrap my head around is how someone can hear of Kyle Beach’s story and go to sleep at night believing the Chicago Blackhawks organization was justified in not investigating his assault because they were too busy with the Stanley Cup playoff race. They had a good team and the decision was to choose winning; and no, I am not naive. I realize that there is a lot of money at stake in these NHL organizations and many livelihoods at stake based on the success of a season; however, prioritizing a Stanley Cup over an athlete being sexually assaulted? That is the shadow of sports.
I undoubtedly know that Kyle Beach’s life was forever changed based on not only the abuse itself, but the dismissal he faced after bravely choosing to report it. There are bad people in this world, and they will do bad things. I am unsure if we can change that. I am sure, however, that we can change the culture around disclosing abuse incidents and taking all reports of misconduct seriously to ensure they are managed properly. There is a difference between those two things, in theory, but in the cases of NWSL and the NHL, it appears that the management of the reports, and the reports themselves, were both mishandled and not treated as seriously as they were.
Players Health’s mission goes hand-in-hand with my own. We are creating the safest environment possible for an athlete to play the sports they love. This drives everything we do and represents the true gold of sports. It’s clear that a change is needed, so we are stepping up to be a part of the solution. I will never say Players Health is the end-all be-all, but we are able to bring a level of expertise and clarity that is missing within the management of the organizations that are struggling with these issues today.
It is Martin Luther King who said, ”the time is always right to do what is right.”
What does change look like? It looks like clear policies, protocols, roles and responsibilities for how an organization deals with incidents when they happen. Organizations need to have open communication and pathways to report incidents, so victims feel empowered to come forward without any fear of retaliation. It’s crucial to use a third party to investigate the incidents that are reported and a clear disciplinary matrix for code of conduct issues. A culture that sees their athletes and employees as people, instead of a means to generate review or a cog in a wheel, is far more valuable than we often think. All of this change may sound like a lot. But, it gives us the important chance to safely and comfortably enjoy sports for all the reasons we truly love them—the gold.
We love sports and the gold they bring us, and I know change is hard. However, if we don’t change now, the shadows will take over and cause irreversible trauma to those who are left unprotected. That’s why I pray for humility, transparency, boldness and courage for all of the leaders that have a hand in making an impact on how their organization combats these issues. It is no small feat to stand up to abuse in sports, which is why Players Health has committed its total existence to create the safest environment possible for an athlete to play the sports they love. We are here when you need us.