Supporting the Civic Courage of Young Athletes with Dave Zirin

On Friday, October 15, PCA teamed up with renowned author Dave Zirin for our latest webinar for a discussion titled “Supporting the Civic Courage of Young Athletes”. The webinar is part of our intentional action steps to be a force for reconciliation and a platform to encourage and participate in open conversation.

Hosted by PCA’s Marti Reed and Trennis Jones, the trio led a discussion through many topics including listening to the voices of youth, repeating history, and remaining a positive force in times of great uncertainty.

Marti began the discussion by asking Dave about his new book, The Kaepernick Effect, and what inspired him to write it. He explained that he did not want Kaepernick’s protest to be forgotten in the same way younger generations have largely forgotten the protests of Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Empowering our youth requires an understanding from both sides, and Zirin holds the belief that thinking youth should stay out of situations like this is a case of ignorance. “Anybody saying the youth should not have to worry about this has not been paying attention for the last 20 years,” Zirin stated. He believes that much of the ‘youth anxiety’ epidemic has been caused by this lack of understanding between parties.

The discussion transitioned to a focus on coaching and how coaches can also be translators. Zirin believes that there are two types of coaches- transactional and transformational - and that only one of these can be successful. To explain, he used the example of how each type of coach might respond to young athletes protesting. Unfortunately, the more common response is from a transactional coach who will likely be worried about how the situation might affect the team's image, donations, and even their own job. A transformational coach will have used these protests to bring the team together and spark discussion to recognize the struggles of oppressed teammates and face them as a team.

Dave went on to relate this to his own experiences as a coach during the pandemic. He explained that his team was unbeaten through the season, and upon making it to the championship, sadly the competition was cancelled due to COVID. This was a verdict that sent Dave and the kids reeling initially, as everybody’s first thought was losing the chance at their winning season. After taking a step back, Dave realized that this was the perfect opportunity to teach his athletes about the importance of family and community. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many kids were forced to stay home and participate in society in a way that they never had before. This required reliance on their family and community working together in new ways in order to recreate a functioning society. Dave took this as a perfect lesson for his athletes about how connected and reliant we are on our local community and chose instead to focus his athlete’s priorities and values on what really matters. “If you’ve ever been to a football game in a small town, it’s obvious to see that it is about more than just the sport; it’s about community,” Zirin stated.

Dave ended with a note of optimism regarding the future of sports and politics, believing that over the last 20 years people have come to finally understand sports as a vessel for these messages, not something completely removed from politics. In fact, Dave explained that sports and politics are linked at the deepest level, and in a way, that sports are politics. “Sports are founded on the myth of inclusion, and the reality of exclusion,” he stated. Sport has always been a battle for inclusion, but Dave believes that we are soundly winning the fight over the oppression of the past. He believes that PCA’s Sports Can Battle Racism webinar, as well as Marti and Trennis’ work with this initiative, are proof that the landscape has already changed drastically. The future is bright.


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