Sports serve as tool to improve police-community relationships

June 5, 2017

By Andrew Mac Intosh

When Colin Kaepernick and other athletes knelt during the national anthem and criticized police shootings of African Americans, some celebrated players giving voice to injustices while others said sports shouldn't be a place for social action.

What received less media coverage is work done by athletes and other organizations using sports as a tool to build and repair relationships between youth and police officers who serve their communities.

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One such organization, Detroit Police Athletic League, has been incorporating police officers into its sports programming for generations, using them as coaches and mentors to youth. More recently, Detroit PAL embarked on a Team Up program that partners police officers with a sports team over the course of the season. These officers attend practices and have discussions with student-athletes about leadership, life skills and the roles officers play in the community. They also have conversations about race and diversity. These topics are of particular relevance given these youths tend to be youth of color. RISE has assisted Detroit PAL by training officers to have these conversations and developing content included in the Team Up curriculum.

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The role police play in society places them in an unenviable position. Law and order is a central tenet of civilized society, but the people charged to uphold it often aren't held in the same regard. They're viewed as the arm of the establishment, reinforcing the institutions of power and oppression within society. Such a position has been made even worse by a series of high-profile police shootings, leading many to charge that the police force is inadequately trained and biased (implicitly or otherwise) against minorities and those in lower socioeconomic status communities.

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At the request of its athletes, the NBA, in conjunction with community organizations, police departments and RISE, organized the Saturday Morning Hoops program this winter in New Orleans and the Building Bridges Through Basketball program beginning in Chicago this summer to improve the relationship between communities and police officers. Such programs are the result of athletes challenging their leagues to place greater emphasis on programs that serve the most disenfranchised in communities and foster great police/community relationships.

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Sports has the ability to bring people together and allow them to look past their differences. Many sports-based initiatives are allowing citizens and law enforcement to work together to forge stronger bonds and communities. RISE is proud to be able to partner with a variety of professionals within sports to improve race relations and use the power of sports to heal divided communities. We believe that athletes have a central role to play to make our society better.

Examples of sports programs that bridge the divide between police and youth (communities):

Andrew Mac Intosh is national director, leadership and education programs, for RISE.