In the upcoming book Sport Matters: Leadership, Power and the Quest for Respect in Sports , Kenneth L. Shropshire, Wharton’s David W. Hauck Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics and director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, explores the challenges of achieving an ideal culture of equality and respect within the sports industry from the perspectives of team owners, management, players and fans. What follows is an interview with the author about the book, its inspiration and more.

WHARTON MAGAZINE: Why did you write this book?

KENNETH SHROPSHIRE: In 1996, my book In Black and White: Race and Sports in America was published. So much has happened since then. The issues are more dominant now than ever, but oh so different. Nearly 20 years later, blatant racism, such as the throwing of bananas at black athletes in Europe, is less of an issue. The greater concern is the continuing absence of power by people of color. The deficit exists in ownership and top-level management across sports. In addition to racism, other issues have emerged that must be addressed to further the progress that has been made, from homophobia to sexism. A case like the drama starring Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling shines a light on the obstacles to equality, respect, diversity and inclusion within sport.

As a guiding framework for the book, I reference the title of a chapter in W.E.B. Du Bois’ classic The Souls of Black Folk: “Of the Meaning of Progress.” In this chapter, Du Bois looks back to fully assess the progress in a given setting. That is my goal here. But in addition to where we are and have been, how can we do better going forward, and what can we learn from this, beyond sport?


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WM: In the book, you describe the Dolphins incident, in which several players allegedly bullied another player, as a “Mona Lisa.” What do mean by that?

SHROPSHIRE: There is so much more there than classic schoolyard bullying. Once you read the report the National Football League issued on the matter, you see some amazingly nuanced issues worthy of close examination, including the use of the n-word, negative views of women, and power dynamics and a lack of respect between men. Like a great work of art, the more you contemplate that incident and others like it, the more likely you are to see more than meets the eye or something different from what you saw at first blush.

WM: How do these issues affect players?

SHROPSHIRE: Interestingly, for players on the field of play, it is largely about equal treatment: Don’t take away an athletic opportunity because of who I am. For the most part, the best player plays. This is a significant area of progress; decades ago, even the position you were allowed or expected to play was determined by race. Strikingly, there is a survival mode that allows athletes to tolerate virtually anything in the locker room as part of the game. The impact often shows in some of the behavior that occurs in the real world, in interactions outside of the locker room after the playing days are over.

WM: Why should these issues matter to sports fans?

SHROPSHIRE: These issues matter beyond sport for many reasons. First, the impact of the optics: The better sport does with these issues, the better example society has to look toward. The classic moment is Jackie Robinson integrating Major League Baseball nearly a decade before the landmark court decision on integrating schools, Brown v. Board of Education. The issues span well beyond race, from LGBT issues, led this past year by Michael Sam who became the first NFL player to come out as gay, to the little-discussed sexism issues in the Sterling dispute. The influence sport has on society, and especially on our youth, is undeniable.

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