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Volume 23 No. 18
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Plugged In: Kenneth Shropshire, Wharton Sports Business Initiative

In the maelstrom of sports controversies of the past few years — the Ray Rice story, the Donald Sterling saga, and the use of the name “Redskins,” among them — Kenneth Shropshire sees a common thread: the lack of a culture of respect and civility in sports. Shropshire, a lawyer and director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, has dissected these incidents in a new book titled “Sport Matters: Leadership, Power, and the Quest for Respect in Sports.” He notes how there continue to be a number of challenges for owners, management, players and fans.

Change does matter, but it becomes an issue of change versus progress. There needs to be a continued emphasis on diversity, inclusion and respect so that the sports industry can create true progress.

On what progress means: There is a good deal of conversation around the topic of diversity and that feeling that there has to be different types of people in any given organization. But it’s one thing where you can have the numbers to prove diversity, and another to have those people included in the conversation. Looking back at the Ray Rice situation, if the NFL had some of the people on board as they have now, with knowledge on identifying and understanding domestic violence, would they have made the same decisions?

On the differences he sees versus the mid-’90s, when he wrote “In Black and White: Race and Sports in America”: Back then, I don’t even think diversity was used in the same way it is now, and I had been thinking of revisiting that topic. But, when I was in the midst of rewriting it, all of these issues happened, and it all kind of boiled down to the fact that race wasn’t the main issue. It was more about, How do you get leaders to understand diversity from the point of view of respect, equality and inclusion, and really distill that idea into their organizations.

On trying to stay ahead: You don’t always know what the next issue is going to be … but that is why you always have to ask what’s out there in society that we need to know more about.

On a Rooney Rule for management: We do need to make sure that people that could be in positions have the opportunity to be put there. Someone like LeBron James has the power to influence decisions if he chooses to assert it, but it’s very difficult to make that happen, and that opportunity is very fleeting.

— Ian Thomas