Great Athletes Meet Great Minds
When WNBA basketball players dedicated their 2020 season to Breonna Taylor, it was groundbreaking, but not surprising, says UMass Amherst Associate Professor of Sport Management Nefertiti Walker. The women’s professional basketball league has long been inclusive of all races and ethnicities and of LGBT people. “As a majority Black league with intersectional identities, these players are primed for social justice advocacy,” says Walker. “They’ve been dealing with oppression their whole lives.”
While the WNBA has been in the forefront, the sports establishment—and the wider world—still has far to go to achieve gender parity and improve diversity and inclusion. That’s why a new first-of-its kind affiliation with the Collective Think Tank, a global consortium of academic and sports industry leaders, is so important to students and faculty in the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management at UMass Amherst. The consortium will share data, insights, and information to help women succeed in sports.
The Think Tank is operated by the sports and entertainment marketing giant Wasserman. Wasserman represents many of today’s top female athletes, including WNBA superstars Brittney Griner and Sue Bird and World Cup soccer champion Megan Rapinoe.
“At UMass, we have tremendous expertise in diversity and inclusion,” says Walker, who serves as the campus’s vice chancellor for diversity, equity, and inclusion and chief diversity officer, as well as associate professor in the Isenberg School of Management. “We bring our expertise to the Think Tank and hope to lead projects looking at diversity, equity, and inclusion in sports. We want to know how women in pro sports cope with sexism, racism, and heterosexism, and how it’s making their lives difficult and their jobs hard. The goal is to use this data to design more inclusive sports organizations.”
In turn, UMass will benefit from Wasserman’s access and expertise, contacts and clout, and the Think Tank’s affiliation with other sport management experts.
Students in Associate Professor of Sport Management Nicole Melton’s “Diversity and Inclusion in Sport Organizations” course are already using Think Tank resources to research the experience of women and underrepresented and marginalized groups in undergraduate sport management programs and in their entry-level jobs. “We want to know how their experiences impact whether or not they pursue careers in sports,” she explains. “We’re looking to promote inclusion—creating spaces where people not only feel they belong but also feel that their unique selves are valued.”
Researchers at the new Isenberg Laboratory for Inclusion and Diversity in Sports (LIDS), launched this semester, will also benefit from the Think Tank affiliation. Access to its resources will help promote equal opportunity for women athletes, women fans, and women in the business of sports, including graduates of the McCormack Department of Sport Management, long ranked as one of the best in the world.