Richard Lapchick discusses impact of diversity on culture of equality

Christa Rodriguez || Layout Assistant 

Tuesday night, Richard E. Lapchick, human rights activist and internationally-recognized expert on racial equality in athletics, gave a lecture at 7:00 p.m. in the Roschel Center for Performing Arts. This event was free and open to the community. His talk was titled “Who Do We Listen to? The Power of Diversity and Inclusion,” and he spoke of his humanitarian work as well as the importance of diversity and inclusion in sports and beyond.

Lapchick is the director at the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports and chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida. He is also a regular columnist for ESPN.com and Sports Business Journal. He has received multiple humanitarian awards and honors, including the Lifetime Achievement Award for Work in Civil Rights from the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow/Push Coalition (2009) and is a member of the Sports Hall of Fame of the Commonwealth Nations (Humanitarian Category) alongside Arthur Ashe and Nelson Mandela.

Dan Porterfield, president of the college, introduced Lapchick, saying he has been described as “the racial conscience of sport.” This introduction was followed by a short, biographical, ESPN video.

Once Lapchick took the stage, he posed the question, “who is your counsel when you have to make difficult decisions?” He stated that diversity and inclusivity results in better judgements and more success in any kind of environment. He compared the NBA with the NFL in terms of diversity and responsiveness to minority group issues. According to Lapchick, the NFL has little diversity in gender and therefore does not treat gender problems like rape with the attention needed. On the other hand, the NBA has a more diverse group of advisers that react immediately to issues like racist comments. To Lapchick, this shows that diversity in sports foster a better overall perspective.

As a 70-year-old man, Lapchick has experienced important times for social justice. In the 1970s, he led the South African anti-apartheid boycott against international sports events. During his time there, he experienced a traumatizing attack and had the n-word carved on his stomach with a pair of scissors. As a result, people suggested to him that he back off the issue. However, while in the hospital, he overheard one black nurse say, “I didn’t think white people cared.” In that moment, he knew he had to continue to make a difference.

He emphasized the need for change in the U.S. today, giving a statistic that the wealth gap between blacks and whites in 2016 in America is greater than the wealth gap between Africans and whites was during apartheid in South Africa.

Lapchick also discussed gender inequality. He relayed a story in which his older sister, a senior in high school in the 1950s, had to make a choice. She was chosen for her school yearbook as either best-looking or best athlete but could only choose one. Finally, she chose best-looking because she knew it was not a possibility for her to become a professional athlete given her sex at the time. She went on to become a model instead of her true dream of becoming an athlete.

He also touched on feminist issues around the world, where many countries do not allow women control over their own bodies. This includes female genital mutilation, girls sold as child brides, women murdered by their significant others, and human trafficking. Today, there are 28 to 30 million people enslaved, and most are women. Sex slaves are raped an average of ten times a day, 365 days a year. He shared a list of places where human trafficking occurs, including places in the U.S.  When he was attacked in 1978, he also chose to stand up for women and girls amidst all the issues of race he took part in. A rumor leaked in the media that Lapchick had self-inflicted the wounds on his stomach. People wanted him to take a lie detector test. He refused to take it, consulting with civil rights leaders who agreed. When asked why, he compared it to a woman who was sexually assaulted and being asked to prove it.

Returning back to the main theme of the night, Lapchick asked the audience “What’s your legacy gonna be?” He noted that everyone has the power to affect others and bring about change in a community if we put our minds to it. Lapchick told the audience, “If we listen to diverse and inclusive voices, our lives will be better.”

First-year Christa Rodriguez is the Layout Assistant. Her email is crodrigu@fandm.edu.

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