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I teach a sport sociology course at James Madison University (JMU), and in class the other day I posed this question: What will diversity in sport look like in 30 years?
In 30 years, the students I am teaching will be 50 years old and hold titles like CEO and GM and Director and so forth. So for them, it’s important to start thinking about how we define diversity right now, in 2013. It’s also important to begin thinking about how that definition will evolve over the coming years because they will be the decision-makers. They will be responsible for this idea of inclusion and how it can affect all people at all times from all walks of life.
Last summer’s Olympic Games allowed us a brief moment – too brief – to redefine what diversity may look like at that level in the near future. Instead of men’s/women’s or black and white, ability was also thrown into the diversity conversation. For but a moment, we were able to witness one of the most diverse races in the history of the Olympic Games. As we continued our class discussion about diversity’s future, I posed this scenario:
What if in the 2044 Olympic Games we have a sprint finals where a black woman lines up next to a white man, next to an Asian transsexual, next to a single amputee, next to a double amputee, next to an athlete who has identified herself as having depression?
I bring this up on the heels of a campus diversity conference held here at JMU, which led into Disability Awareness Week. That’s local for me. But these concepts, such as how we define diversity, are essential to wrestle on the global level (thus, the Olympic example!).
I also bring this up because disability is rarely part of the diversity conversation, particularly when discussing sport. We can hold entire college courses on the history of the black athlete, the struggle for opportunity, and the existing stereotypes that exist within our societies. We can easily point to Civil Rights legislation that spurred a movement. We can create a curriculum on gender equity within sport and have legislation that supports this shift in thinking.
For disability, we have the legislation and we’re in an infant stage when discussing equality, specifically in sport. We have yet to truly recognize what that looks like, feels like, smells like, and sounds like. Within the disability community, we’re still having these debates on defining disability, so it creates an uphill battle to position disability in general within the diversity conversation.
Still, simply including disability within the conversation of diversity is a good Step 1.
Near the conclusion of the diversity conference on campus, the university president spoke of the different lenses through which we view diversity, or at least should view it. He has an extensive record of diversity advocacy, yet as he spoke, he jokingly admitted his platform placed him in quite the quandary: He’s a white male.
As the crowd shared a laugh, I thought about the question I posed to my students about diversity in 30 years. I then thought about what diversity looked like 30 years ago in 1983, or even 50 years ago in 1963. It was quite a different setting.
I anticipate – and hope – someone will be saying the exact same thing in 30 years.