In Panel, Football All-Stars Discuss Race, Leadership, and Justice

Race and Justice in Sports
Richard K. Sherman, left, Arian I. Foster, center, and Larry D. Fitzgerald, right, discuss their experiences during their collegiate years as student athletes and the difficulties they faced balancing academics and football.

A panel of three current NFL all-stars and a former NFL Player’s Association head discussed issues associated with race and justice in athletics during an event entitled “The Modern Black Male Athlete” Wednesday afternoon.

Pro Bowl players Arian Foster, Richard Sherman, and Larry Fitzgerald informally talked about the NCAA, philanthropy, and the ability of high-achieving African-Americans to inspire young people. Former NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth, who is currently a student at the Harvard Business School, also participated in the discussion. He had helped bring the players to Cambridge.

Harvard Prize Fellow Brandon Terry ’05 moderated the event, which included a lengthy question-and-answer session. Audience members asked about affirmative action and the controversy prompted by Seattle Seahawks cornerback Sherman when he offered live comments following the National Football Conference Championship game in January, among other topics.

The Harvard Foundation, the Harvard Black Men’s Forum, and the Harvard Sports Analytics Collective co-sponsored the event, which drew undergraduates from across campus to hear from the NFL athletes.

While the majority of the discussion focused on the challenges that come with being a black athlete in the NFL, the group also directly addressed the undergraduates who attended the event.

“Right now, as I’m sitting here, I say that you all are the future of our society,” said Foster, the Houston Texans running back. “You’re the innovators and the movers, and that’s what I’m trying to be. I’m trying to be in your seat when I’m done playing football...to do what I have to do to push my generation forward.”

During the portion of the event that addressed the NCAA, the panelists commented that student-athletes ought to be better compensated. They also praised Harvard football players for choosing to attend a more prestigious university over other potential schools that might have offered them scholarships.

Beforehand, Foxworth stressed the importance of the sensitive issues they discussed.

“I thought that it was important to give these [panelists], who I know have strong views in these areas, an opportunity to be on a big platform and hopefully help to shape the conversation,” Foxworth said.

According to BMF Executive Program Director Tope A. Agabalogun ’15, the panel gave the audience a unique opportunity to hear top black professional athletes discuss key issues regarding racial identity.

“There’s a lot of stereotypes that come with being a black athlete and football player,” Agabalogun said. “[The panelists] can speak to that directly, and so we were excited to gain that perspective in regards to this intersection of race and image presentation.”

Just before “The Modern Black Male Athlete” panel occurred, the four panelists also spoke at the Harvard i-Lab, where they discussed the creation and commercialization of their public images outside the realm of sports.

—Staff writer Caleb Y. Lee can be reached at caleblee@college.harvard.edu.

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