White Sox Host Game Changers Panel on Race, Culture & Sports

On Jackie Robinson Day, Monday, April 15, 2019, the Chicago White Sox hosted one of their Game Changers panels, this one focused on “Race Culture & Sports.” The high powered panel included Phil Thompson (Chicago Tribune), Fred Mitchell (Chicago Blackhawks), Exavier Pope (Attorney and media personality), Rahsaan Johnson (Director of Sponsorship and Brand Activation for United Airlines) and Maya Akai (radio personality).



Jackie Robinson court marshalled for refusing to sit on bus

Asked about Kyle Korver essay about changing the white athlete community.


Teaches course, “Sports, media and society” at DePaul.  Social media has dramatic impact. Interactive relationship with the athletes and get up close to them through TW or FB.  Media guilty of putting athletes up on a pedestal. Not reasonable to expect them to be socially conscious or good people but unlikely they will mostly be the best citizens.

GC: Dwayne Wade checks boxes of doing something in communities where he grew up.  His Foundation shows up and he personally shows up. Uses his platform and celebrity in a positive manner.  He would highlight the charity events in his “Around the Town” column.

Korver:  white coaches speaking out like Kerr, Popavich.  Everyone knows about it but it is not spoken about publically. Better for the message to come from the white people.


Sports has always been intertwined with society.  Takes cue from war. Shaped over time with the technology.  Pressure on Jackie Robinson–if you fail, everyone fails!! Blacks face this across society. African americans dont necessarily get second chances.

A gamechanger right now is Michael Jordan.  Narrative about MJ is misguided. Everybody in the movement doesn’t have to occupy the same space. Would LeBron be able to take his steps without the groundwork laid by MJ.  Every person needs to take their lane and work in their space.

Korver:  Lots of people wanted him kicked off the team.  Society where talking about race is seen as racist.  Need to have owners speak up, not only coaches and players.  He asked whether we know what candidates owners of team support and how that impacts players of color.           


Top story today Tiger Woods.  Top story is guy who is same age and looks like him and people are cheering him on. What other than sports brings people together.Sports should be a driver because you get people from a lot of different ethnicities.

GC: He has seen Ray Rice with his wife speaking out about domestic violence.  Simone Biles who found the courage to speak out against Dr. Nasser.


Why is sports a driver for social change.  It is an influencer and athletes draw people in

Who are the game changers?  Distinction between activists and advocates.   She feels that Kapernick dropped the ball. He never followed up on the issue.  If you are going to stand up and protest, then you have to expect the consequences. She likes LeBron for starting the school and helping address generational poverty by helping the parents too. putting 100s of kids through college.  Felt Kap could have had much more impact.

MJ opened up medical clinics.  Put black executives into place.  MJ changed the sponsorship game and the branding and the whole valuation.  All the money people are making is because.

She also works in mental health.  She thinks it is a challenge and narratives put out about athletes is based on color.

When you look for a culture shift, you need other people who look like you share that conversation with you. Read the book “The Art of War”

While the panel itself was impressive and the White Sox hosted a terrific event, it was disappointing to see such a sparse crowd on a day when the entirety of Major League Baseball was focused on Jackie Robinson. As you can see from the photos above, there was very light attendance on what proved to be a beautiful weather night. One of the concepts that hit me as we were sitting there was all of the schools within a short radius of the ballpark. How nice of a tribute would it have been to Jackie Robinson if the White Sox hosted all CPS students for this day and filled up an extra 20,000 seats!!

Roy Kessel

Roy Kessel

Roy Kessel is the Founder of the Sports Philanthropy Network. Roy has worked in the sports business world for over 20 years including serving as an instructor in Northwestern University's graduate Sports Management Program. Having served as a sports lawyer representing athletes, entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, Roy has extensive experience helping organizations improve their strategy, marketing, communications and leadership development.
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