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November 1, 2020

After 5 years, RISE remains steadfast in its mission

By Paul Tagliabue, RISE Co-Chair

Several years ago, I committed to some of the most meaningful work of my life — helping to unify Americans around our shared values of fair play and equality. RISE was already established as a unique coalition of sports leagues, intercollegiate conferences and other sports organizations along with sports media companies. Since then, RISE has developed a sustainable national network of partnerships that reaches across all sports at all levels. We have implemented innovative programming to empower inclusive leadership, build bridges between law enforcement and diverse communities, and increase civic engagement. In order to add value to everything we do, we are collecting, analyzing and applying data to ensure that our programs leverage the power of sports to create a racially equitable and just society.

When the sports community came together to launch RISE to fight systemic racism, it had a different operating model as a key goal. We would not leave equity and justice to others — to view it as "their problem," not mine. We would have majority communities allied with minority communities to achieve transformative change. At that time, leaders in sport were engaged but not deeply enough and not with transformative ambitions. Now even a pandemic should not stop us from achieving our mission. Now it's clearer than ever that the sports community has exceptional platforms for bringing people together based on respect and diversity.

As a white man who held one of the highest offices in sports, I am proud of my son, daughter and grandchildren, and of the values and the leadership that they and their generations are providing to make our future better than our past. My life experiences — with my family and so many other Americans – have informed my perspective, and I believe that most Americans, in all communities and all walks of life, know that we are better when we are together. That is what led me to become the board Co-Chair at RISE.

Over the last three years, we have surveyed more than 6,200 college athletes and 1,200 coaches and athletics staff from 50 campuses to understand their perceptions of racism, social justice and athlete activism. We found an overwhelming majority believe racism is a very serious concern and that they have an obligation to act. They also want to learn how to better tackle these topics, which is where our programs help. For example, through our Big East partnership, DePaul University became the first Big East university to have every athlete registered to vote. They credited our non-partisan initiative RISE to Vote -- which has engaged more than 5,000 athletes through 70 sessions this year -- with getting them across the finish line.

Professional teams and organizations are also stepping up to create solutions. Since George Floyd's tragic and incomprehensible killing, RISE has partnered with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx to support their important work in the community, including multiple Critical Conversations. We recently launched with them our award-winning Building Bridges Through Basketball program, which helps break down barriers and build trust between law enforcement diverse communities. We are bringing these programs to more communities as we have seen the life-changing impact they can have on young people and police officers.

I have deep hope and strong convictions for the future and have been inspired to see athletes at all levels working with other community leaders to fight for racial justice. For RISE and its allies, there is no crisis fatigue, and it's important we not lose sight of the critical need to eliminate bigotry and systemic racism together. As I reflect on what lies ahead for our nation and the sports community, I remain steadfast in working to unify everyone around the values of equality, dignity and respect for all that have made Americans the noble leaders that we are. I hope you will join me.

Paul Tagliabue is RISE's Co-Chair.

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