Ken Shropshire was a 13-year-old boy living in the heart of Los Angeles when he was first exposed to the impact of sports on society.
He was watching the 1968 Olympics on his family’s small black-and-white TV as John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in that iconic salute to “black power” from the medal stand. Years later, Shropshire befriended Carlos and the two have become a source of counsel and friendship for each other over the last 30 years.
The 62-year-old former Stanford University football player has been chosen to lead the new Global Sport Institute, a unique and potentially groundbreaking collaboration between Adidas and Arizona State University. The intent of the institute is to tackle big-picture issues in sports, including race and gender, that can positively affect society as a whole.
First Look podcast, with Global Sports Alliance beginning at the 10:45 mark:
“You do what you can do, in your lane,” Shropshire said. “My lane just happens to be academics.”
Adidas and Arizona State announced the alliance last week, saying that the combined resources of a global sports brand and the country’s largest university have the potential to “change lives,” said Mark King, president of Adidas North America.
Adidas became the Sun Devils’ official shoe and apparel provider two years ago, prompting King and ASU President Michael Crow to contemplate how the brand and the school might work together beyond the boundaries of the traditional sportswear deal. Adidas and ASU will share the financial support of the institute, which most likely will be based on ASU’s athletic campus and have a modest staff of about six full-time employees.
Results from the institute’s research could be presented in documentaries, podcasts, papers or perhaps a Global Sport Institute symposium like the NFL symposium Shropshire administered at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to address minority hiring.
“Let’s try to look at the world through the lens of sport with the hopes of shaping the future of sport,” King said, sharing his overarching vision. “How do we use our resources, assets and shared values to make the world a better place? There are a lot of really interesting ways we can work together.”
Shropshire, as the institute’s CEO, will be at the forefront of the research and development, along with King and Crow.
Shropshire had been a distinguished professor at Wharton and authored the book “Sport Matters: Leadership, Power and the Quest for Respect in Sports.” Just as Shropshire had begun thinking about retirement from Wharton, ASU and Adidas asked him to lead the new institute.
“Instead of a back nine, now I’ve got a whole new 18,” Shropshire said with a laugh.
King added: “I’m not sure this alliance would have kicked off without Ken.”
As a sports attorney, Shropshire represented his longtime friend, Ray Anderson, in negotiations to become the Sun Devils’ athletic director in 2014. Crow was so impressed with Shropshire that he asked him to stay on as a consultant. Shropshire was part of the team with Crow and King that outlined what a Global Sport Institute might look like, so when it came time to find a CEO, Shropshire was the logical choice. Anderson began recruiting his friend to move to ASU and run the institute on a full-time basis.
to make the world a better place?
There are a lot of really interesting ways we can work together.”
President, Adidas North America
“I didn’t steer you wrong 40-some years ago,” Anderson told Shropshire. “And I won’t steer you wrong now.”
Anderson added: “Ken is intellectual, naturally curious, and he’s dedicated his career to the study of sports. This is an opportunity at this point in his career to do something, beyond the routine, maybe outside the comfort zone.”
Shropshire officially has been on the job just a week — he doesn’t even have business cards yet — and his plate is already overflowing with ideas for research.
In addition to the big-picture items, such as why minorities don’t have the same access to coaching or executive positions, the institute will use its resources from ASU and Adidas to explore questions that range from human performance to the business side of sports.
How much sleep is required to be fit?
Do drinks like Gatorade really work?
When should voters say no to publicly funded sports facilities?
The Sun Devils’ 700-plus athletes will have a role in the performance and training research, while also serving internships that could help launch their careers.
Already, Shropshire has heard from faculty at ASU about unique research on the participation of Latina girls in sports, and what the future looks like for the Cuban athlete.
It’s clear that Shropshire will have no shortage of ideas to pursue.
“We’ll use every part of the university to find out these things,” he said.
Shropshire has already dialed in on one of the institute’s first initiatives — next year will be the 50th anniversary of the black power salute by Carlos and Smith — and he’s thinking about ways to properly honor one of the first visible moments in which it was clear that sports could impact society.
“We’re going to talk a lot about social issues,” Shropshire said. “We’re already thinking about how to properly make sure the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympics resonates with people. That was a moment that was needed in society, and we’re going to address it.”