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Social Responsibility In Sports: Optional Or Obligation?

From September 9th – 11th athletes, executives, community program leaders and supporters convened in Philadelphia for the 2013 Beyond Sport Summit and Awards.  Hailed as the largest gathering for sport and social change, global leaders in sport, business, innovation, philanthropy, development and government came together to share ideas and celebrate highly impactful programs in this space. One of these ideas included the issue of social responsibility.

A discussion about social responsibility

ESPN Anchor Kevin Negandhi interviews NBA Commissioner David Stern and Former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell at the 2013 Beyond Sport Summit and Awards in Philadelphia.

Is Social Responsibility An Elective or An Obligation?

A wealth of topics were discussed across executive panels and practitioner workshops alike, and so it was inevitable that at some point the ultimate question would be addressed. 

Now the term “social responsibility” bears several connotations, ranging from corporate consciousness of environmental impact to the concept of athletes being role models (whether or not they believe they are, Charles Barkley).  While I suppose the attendees of this conference would be a bit of a biased sample, there was a resounding unity in the belief of the impact that the celebrity of athletes, teams and leagues — the faces of the industry — can leverage on the communities they live and play in.

Those working in the industry have a front row seat to witness and catalyze this impact. NBA Commissioner David Stern confidently stated that a commitment to positive social impact is an essential part of the game plan:

“Sports has this enormous capacity… to really make an important contribution. And we should be severely criticized if we don’t take advantage of it… We should be talking about it as an obligation.” 

Sounds like, whether we like it or not, there is an inherent mandate to do social good that comes with the celebrity of sport. Stern Goes into much more detail in the video below:

After the Telecast: Going “Beyond Sport”

So what’s the call to action here?

To me, it’s finding a way to leverage the resources — from brand equity to financial capacity to sheer (wo)man power — to make a difference in a way that reflects the passions and goals of the organization and the individuals therein.

The NBA has done a phenomenal job of unifying its players, teams and league office in a concerted community service effort known worldwide as NBA Cares.  This initiative is part of the league’s DNA and actively engages people from all aspects of the organization in year-round community building efforts; including fundraising, hands-on service and play space development. The tagline “bigger than basketball” conveys the league’s commitment to leveraging the unique platform it has to make a difference off the court.  This opportunity is something that exists one way or another in every facet of the sports industry.

No matter the sport or structure, each athlete, team or league that captivates the attention of an audience wields the potential to contribute to positive social change.  It’s just up to the individuals to harness that potential and put it to work for good.

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