Addressing Social Justice with Your Team

I just finished the book Everyday Antiracism. The book draws on essays about race from about 60 different teachers and professors from a variety of backgrounds. It is designed for teachers, but certain essays are broad enough to be applicable to anyone. That includes coaches trying to educate players on social justice. I was applying my Kindle highlighter in many locations, but one quote stuck out the most:

“The goal is dialogue, not debate. During a debate the goal is to win an argument; during a dialogue the goal is communication. During a debate you attack what the other person says; during a dialogue you respect what another is saying.” – L. Janelle Dance

After speaking with Brown University coach Monique LeBlanc, reading a couple books, and listening to other coaches, I am learning I have a long way to go. I am far from an expert on social justice, but trying to educate myself. All of the coaches offered good suggestions. Given the goal of dialogue, here are a few suggestions for coaches to address social justice with teams.

In a COVID World

Not physically being able to see players makes conversations difficult. Other coaches that I have talked to have done Zooms with their teams. I personally have not, but have reached out to a few former and current players. On college teams in which freshmen have not really established relationships with upperclassmen, coaches are keeping them separate from the group. These players still have the opportunity to be heard by their coaches. For players to carry out this dialogue in a group they are unfamiliar with is a tall challenge at this moment.

Eventually, players will meet in person on campuses and in the gyms. When that happens, the conversation needs to be continued with the whole team on board. In many ways, new perspectives can enhance dialogue.

Be Open to Conversation and Silence

Some players wish to be heard. They want to talk because they see dialogue as part of a solution or at least making the situation better than it is. Other players do not want to talk. It is repetitive trauma for them. They are still forming an opinion. Do not force these players to talk. Give them the option that if they ever wish to talk that teammates and coaches are safe spaces.

Additionally, based on reading and what I have heard from other coaches, it is not a good idea to ask black players or another minority impacted by racism to educate white players. If players feel comfortable sharing their experiences, let them.

Provide Options for Education

Coach LeBlanc is offering her players a Google Sheet of useful resources to her players. She was kind enough to share it with me. Feel free to share it with your players.

Some players do not like to read or have time. Others like getting an in-depth perspective and will gravitate to books. Giving players options to read articles, listen to podcasts, watch Netflix, etc. will increase the likelihood that players will take action to enhance their education with regards to social justice in some way. Chances are that with the extra time many players have these days that they can add their own suggestions and build on the document. If multiple players on the team engage in the same resource, it will likely enhance the dialogue.

As Mica Pollock stated, “Being brought up white typically involves learning to believe that we are smarter than those who are not white.” For white coaches like myself, implicit biases are very real regardless of our best intentions. By listing to external sources to grow in education instead of educating directly ourselves, we help players form their own opinions and develop more accurate assessments of the world around them.

Moment or Movement?

The COVID climate right now increases the volume on the need for social justice reform in the media. As the economy continues to re-open it is important to plan on how social justice can stay relevant in your team as the news cycle changes. The Boston College men’s basketball team was the first team I saw declare that they were not going to hold team workouts on Election Day. Giving Election Day off seems to be a trend in college sports. Coach LeBlanc told me the Ivy League coaches on the women’s side are in agreement to give players the day off from team activities.

Coach LeBlanc told me the Ivy League Women’s coaches put their heads together on a Zoom call to discuss action steps. There were numerous suggestions. One she shared with me was an advertisement during media timeouts about how diversity positively impacts each school’s campus. Another idea is that college teams typically have a speaker series. The speakers can focus on steps that student-athletes can take to build awareness and fight for social justice.

There are other ideas that I heard from other coaches in talking with their players. Players bring up kneeling during the anthem, how to best observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, talking in terms of “I” and not “we”, and how to add value to each individual team member. A common theme seems to be that one solution is not going to fit all. And thus, again the importance of establishing a dialogue and not a debate.

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