“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” – Nelson Mandela
This year has been strange for everyone. The public health woes due to COVID-19 and uprisings related to racial inequity have highlighted some of the glaring disconnections amongst us all. Trey Athletes’ Fireside Chat with Rolando Blackman and Ben Hunt of the Dallas Mavericks helped to remind us how sports has and can be used as a tool to unite and fuse elements of our humanity that we may normally overlook.
There are many activities and events in the world that have cultural limitations. For example, certain career fields are dominated by specific genders/races, or certain religious institutions have many people that share ethnic commonalities — but the same cannot be said for sports. Oftentimes, the athlete’s journey places you in spaces with people wildly different from you, including those you may not usually engage with; and because you are now competing with or against this person or group, roots of unity, diversity, and cultural integration begin to form. Sports are powerful because they are the one activity that doesn’t have any cultural limits or ethnic barriers. Instead, sports serve as a tool of unity that help to create relationships and conversations.
During the first Trey SZN 3 Fireside Chat, we had the opportunity to hear from Rolando Blackman, a former NBA All-Star now working as the Dallas Mavericks’ Director of Player Development, and Ben Hunt, an accomplished former professional basketball player now serving as the Dallas Mavericks’ Director of Youth Basketball. These two astounding gentlemen explained how their powerful sports journeys have exposed them to many different cultures, experiences, and people who have molded them into the well-rounded individuals they have become.
Rolando is a native Panamanian who moved to Brooklyn at the impressionable age of five years-old; and basketball exposed him to the unimaginable. How many people can say they speak Spanish, lived in Brooklyn, sporadically wore a Jewish Kippah, and put mayonnaise on their hotdog? Rolando can, and all of these special experiences were created or enhanced because of basketball. Well maybe all except the mayonnaise on a hotdog? Ha.
As for Ben, his experience growing up in the beautiful Commonwealth of Australia, and now living in the busy city of Dallas, was a total cultural shift that was strictly due to his association with basketball. You see, sports forces you to grow and expand in ways that you could never conceive. It enables you to speak to people you never thought you’d associate with. It challenges you to deeply communicate and really get to know the person beside you for who they truly are, not for where they have been or where they come from or how they look.
In the quote above, Nelson Mandela said “Sport has the power to change the world, It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” And we couldn’t agree more. When you’re passing the basketball, kicking the soccer ball, handing the baton, throwing the football, or catching the pitch, it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side; all that matters is that the job gets done. Sports help you to look past peoples’ exterior. Sports challenge you to create bonds and to get to know the deeper parts of an individual. That way, you can mesh together and create chemistry in order to execute on the field or court while simultaneously creating a lasting bond beyond the competitive landscape of sports.
Sports serve as a shifting tool that can change the world because sports don’t care what you look like, where you’re from, or where you have been; sports only care about who you are as a person and a competitor. As a result, sports are powerful and important teaching tools for our youth, developing young adults into well-rounded individuals who will help society to positively evolve and transform.
Given the pandemic and racial unrest, it is important to remind ourselves of the tools and resources we have at our disposal to connect, and to embrace connection and the unifying elements of our humanity. Sports is one of the connective tissues that transcends race, gender, and culture. Lean in to the fact that your teammate may not look like you, and similarly to Rolando, you may discover that you have more in common than you think. Embrace the journey of sports, and you’ll come to find that in the heart of sports lies diversity of thought, life, and culture that unite us all in competition.
Camille McGirt is a former collegiate women’s basketball player and current MBA student at Harvard Business School. Camille holds sports close to her heart and loves the fun, grit, and tenacity of competition. She has a social enterprise that she started in 2011 to enhance the health/wellness of black girls, Healthy Girls, Inc. Additionally, she recently launched EXTA, a mobile technology that allows athletes to get personalized mental sports performance support. During those times when Camille isn’t working, she’s likely hanging out with family/friends, traveling, working out, or trying out new delicious food!
Emanuel McGirt played football at NC State as an offensive tackle from 2015-2020. He is now working as a Project Coordinator for the NC Department of Administration and is also the co-founder of EXTA, a mobile technology that allows athletes to get personalized mental sports performance support. Emanuel experienced two injuries while playing college sports and feels very passionate about ensuring that all athletes have the tools they need to get their physical body and mental psyche in shape — always ready to play! In his free time, he enjoys freelance writing, working out, and playing Call of Duty!