Podcast Alert: Richard Lapchick – TIDES and ISSJ
Richard Lapchick – Director of The Institute for Diversity & Ethics in Sport (TIDES) and President of The Institute for Sport and Social Justice (ISSJ) – shares lessons and stories from his career fighting against inequality in sports and beyond.
Richard’s list of personal friends includes activists such as Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and many more.
2:00 – Richard’s background
7:15 – Richard’s lifetime of activism
11:30 – How sports can impact the world
19:30 – Diverse hiring processes
26:30 – What’s next for Richard?
29:30 – Rapid Fire Questions
Gloria Nevarez interview: https://nvgt.com/podcast/?ppplayer=98f56b6dd6dca41729f186d12a4d1251&ppepisode=d0edb5312963f715d1093ee6e69d4410
Richard Lapchick: [00:00:00] The early years that I was working in diversity, we called diversity a moral imperative. Now, I think most business leaders know it’s also a business imperative. That to be successful in business, you’re gonna have to have diverse people involved in running your operation because they’re going to reach markets that white guys might not have known how to do.
Whether it’s being in more women or more people of color, that’s good for business.
AJ Maestas: Hello and welcome to the Navigating Sports Business Podcast. I’m your host, AJ Maestas, founder of Navigate a data-driven consulting firm, guiding major strategies and decisions in sports and entertainment. We started this podcast hoping to share the interesting stories and experiences of the amazing people we get to work with at Navigate.
And even though they’re visionaries [00:01:00] and famous, in many instances. Their true stories aren’t often heard, since they’re not on the playing field. Our hope is you get to know them better and learn from them, as we have.
Today I’m happy to be joined by Richard Lapchick, the director for the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports. As well as the president of the Institute of Sport and Social Justice, the Endowed Chair at UCFs devoss Sports Business Management Program. He’s a writer for ESPN in the Sports Business Journal, published with over 16 books, 550 articles, 2,800 public speeches. Most importantly, I could summarize it by saying he’s a human rights activist, a pioneer for racial equality, an internationally recognized expert on sports issues. A scholar and an author, and my favorite part of this is, as he’s often described, the racial conscience of sports. So how about that? All right, with that said here, I’m gonna pull him on and introduce you to Dr. Richard Lapchick. [00:02:00] Thank you for joining us. Rich.
Richard Lapchick: Happy to be with you always.
AJ Maestas: Yeah, I’m thrilled. You’ve always been far too kind to me and navigate, and I’m still indebted to you for you speaking at our client summit a few years ago, which was unbelievable in the wake of the tragic shooting in Orlando. You’re a treat if anybody ever gets a chance to see you publicly speak. I’m endorsing that. But our good friend Mike Redick, every time I think of UCF I think of Michael Redlick and his tragic passing. Is there anything there I might not know about with the school and how his legacy has been honored? Does he live on at UCF?
Richard Lapchick: Oh, his pictures in my office. I see it every day. I was thrilled that the National Sports Forum, you may have noticed, created an award in his name and presented it to one of our alumni just this week. So that made me really happy that the two of them were connected. They were really close to each other while they’re here and I’m in close touch with Jayden, his daughter, on a regular basis to make sure that the kids are doing okay.
AJ Maestas: Well that’s [00:03:00] amazing. That’s really kind of you to step in there. I’m thinking they need as many parents as they can find losing your father as a young lady, young girl, that’s not fair. Thank you for doing that.
By the way. I can’t help but look behind you right now and see Nelson Mandela and now know about the depth of your relationship with the now late Nelson Mandela. But, you must get questioned about this Hall of fame that’s behind you all the time, yeah?
Richard Lapchick: It gets people’s attention for sure. That’s been one of the blessings of the work that I’ve done is to come in contact with, but also to become friends with some pretty amazing people. From Ali, who’s also in back of me and was still very close to Lonnie’s wife, to Nelson Mandela, to that John Carl and Tommy Smith.
AJ Maestas: Arthur Ash, people who have been role models for me in terms of their athlete activism, which has been so important in my work to be able to become friends with them and seek their wisdom has made my life richly rewarded, to say the least. Well, that one crew right there with Muhammad Ali is a [00:04:00] who’s who.
So, yeah. They’ve enriched your life, but there’s a reason you know them, and that’s what those listening to this today are about to learn all about. If you don’t mind me leaping to you, it will feel like right into the deep end.
Richard Lapchick: Sure.
AJ Maestas: I remember you telling me one of the earliest childhood memories you had was witnessing the backlash of your father for signing Nat Sweetwater Clifton, who was the first African American player in the NBA, this is 1950. Is that the catalyst moment? Is there something else beyond your drive for quality or was that the moment?
Richard Lapchick: Well, I was too young for that to be the moment that would set the tone, but it certainly let me know that the world wasn’t right. Literally my earliest memories looking outside of our bed in the window in Yonkers, New York where I was raised, seeing his image swing from a tree with people under the tree picketing. And for several years after that, picking up the extension phone in our house, my dad not knowing I was listening, and it was racial epithet after racial epithet being hurled at him as a five, six, and seven year old. I didn’t know what any of that meant, except that a lot of people had hated the man who was my best [00:05:00] friend.
So I knew there was something not right in the world. I think, probably one of the defining moments for me, in terms of getting me to start to decide what I was gonna do for the rest of my life was. So my dad was a great basketball player. He was the first great big man in basketball, inducted into the basketball Hall of fame. And when I was in the eighth grade, I was one of the tallest players in New York City. My dad was again, the first great big man. Everybody thought I was gonna be 6’9″, 6’10”. That didn’t quite work out, but at that time, I was heavily recruited, including by a school called Power Memorial. Which was the top basketball program in the country at the time. Chose not to go there, my family wanted me to go to a more academically oriented school. The coach invited me to his basketball camp the next summer. Basketball camp in 1961 was very rudimentary. Now they’re big income earners for coaches, but this was almost unheard of, especially for a high school coach.
And he had five of his white players there and one of his black players. And one of the white players was dropping the N word on the black [00:06:00] guy, dawn till dusk for the first three days and I finally challenged him. He knocked me out cold.
The black guy’s name at the time was Lew Alcinder. Kareem, and I had been very close friends ever since. I was one of his two guests when he got the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. He asked me to speak when his statue was unveiled at the Staples Center. He is been here to Orlando a number of times so that it is been an enduring six decade friendship at this point. But what was important for me as a 15 year old white kid from a largely white community, was, I suddenly had a young urban African American lens to see what racism was doing in his community and other communities of color.
I decided then, As a 15 year old that I would spend the rest of my life working in the area of civil rights. I didn’t know what that would mean as a 15 year old, but that’s, that was probably the defining moment to really push me. In addition to having a father who, by that time I knew what he had done and I knew what his example was. I had a sister who was an activist who had moved to Africa in 1961, had a [00:07:00] big influence on me. And all those things came together, but getting to know Kareem was definitely what pushed me over the edge into this pool.
AJ Maestas: It actually reminds me of another one of your stories if I can prompt you to tell the story. But anyone who knows anything about you knows that you have a long history of activism. It would be no surprise to anybody know that you fought against apartheid in that becoming close friend of Nelson Mandela and, boycotting the lead against South Africa’s participation in the Davis Cup. I remember you telling a story. If you know which one I’m prompting right now, where you were actually, the N word was carved into your chest right? Am I remembering this right?
Richard Lapchick: In my stomach. So after I made that determination of somehow I was gonna be involved in civil rights, I ended up getting a PhD in International Race Relations. It was the first one in the country. This was an outgrowth of the Civil Rights movement, and I did my dissertation on how South Africa used sport as part of its foreign policy and the international response to it and compared it to how the Nazis had done that in the 1930’s. I started teaching at a [00:08:00] college in Virginia in 1970 and didn’t think I’d be involved in the world of sport again, but just focusing on civil rights and race. My dissertation got published as a book. I started speaking about apartheid and in 1974 founded the what became the sports boycott of South Africa in the United States, and it had existed. The boycott was very vibrant overseas to the point that the European countries were no longer competing against South Africa because of apartheid.
So I knew that eventually a South African team would finally come to the United States, and sure enough, in in February of 1978, The South African Davis Cup team was competing in the North American zone of the Davis Cup, cuz nobody would compete with them in the European zone anymore. And my role as the head of the coalition that came together to boycott South Africa was to go to Nashville where the matches were scheduled to be held and to try to get the matches canceled.
Went there. There were larger crowds than there had been. We were finally learning a little bit about apartheid in America after a long time of being very ignorant about it. [00:09:00] In June of ’76, a thousand schoolchildren were gunned down in a township called Soweto, which is part of Johannesburg. And then in September of 1977, Stephen Biko, the leader of the Black Conscious Movement, was killed in a South African jail cell.
So we were finally paying attention. The crowds were bigger. I was asked by the African governments to announce that they would boycott the 1984 Olympic games that this team was allowed to come. So we had a press conference to announce that all three networks, as they were called at the time were there. Dick Chap was covering for NBC Nightly News, and Dick came up to me after the press conference announcing a potential African boycott, and he said that the financial backers of the Davis Cup had pulled out the matches. It looked like they were going to be canceled. I announced that to the crowd at Vanderbilt, which was an anti-apartheid crowd.
They went crazy, and when I flew home to Virginia that night, AJ. I thought maybe for the first time in my life I’d done something worthwhile. The next night, I was working late in my college office, which was in the school’s library. The library closed at [00:10:00] 10:30. At 10:45, there was a knock on the door. I assumed it was campus security anytime that I would be working after the building was closed. Campus security always checked if they saw a light on, so I didn’t hesitate to open the door expecting to see campus security, but instead it was two men wearing stocking masks. Who proceeded to cause liver damage, kidney damage, a hernia concussion, and carved the N word in my stomach with a pair of office scissors and that night lying in the hospital, AJ. I realized that if people had gone to the length they did to try to stop my father 28 years before, and to the length they went to try to stop me that night, that they must have thought that our using the sports platform to address racial justice issue, was having an impact that they didn’t wanna see continue.
So I decided that I was gonna spend the rest of my life using the sports platform to address racism and subsequently other social justice issues. And that’s essentially what I’ve done for the next 50 years after that.
AJ Maestas: What an unbelievable story and the irony of this is [00:11:00] that they gave you a lifelong motivation, right? To fight against what they were trying to do through intimidation, which I’m again so grateful for. So this is in the United States. I don’t know why I had the story in my memory as you were actually in South Africa. This is unbelievable. I didn’t know you were beaten so badly either, by the way. So thank you for that response. You treated that as an opportunity, and it does bother me and worries me if they were that concerned about what sports could do. I would love your opinion on this, and I know that it’s a life mission of yours to positively impact the world to the power of sports. I don’t feel like we do enough, and I know it’s a ridiculous thing to say to someone like you. But it feels like we’re on this giant stage with this huge megaphone in which young people in particular pay attention to. It feels to me like we could be doing more, but as from our prior discussions, I don’t know exactly how I personally or Navigate can play a role in that. I’m not sure what to do.
So in 2002 you started the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports and this publishes [00:12:00] comprehensive racial and gender report cards that analyze the hiring practices of, women and people of color and all kinds of stuff around professional and amateur sports. But that’s here in the United States. I’d love to hear your opinion on are we doing enough through sport, and maybe if you could share some insights from that research so we know how good or bad we are doing , let’s say. Good.
Richard Lapchick: The institute you’re right, started in in when I came to UCF, but I had been publishing the racial and gender report card at Northeastern University where I was previously since 1988. And when we started the grades for both race and gender were consistently low. They’ve gotten better, significantly better, across all the major professional sports, not so much college sport. That’s an embarrassment for me. Having worked at a university for 52 years now, I would’ve thought that universities and their ideals would’ve propelled them to be the best. But in fact, they’re the worst in terms of who’s hired and who’s not.
We’re literally publishing the college sport, racial, and [00:13:00] gender report card next week. So I’ve been working on it in the past couple of days intensely, and to see the numbers, to see that, for example, 51 years after the passage of Title 9, 40% of women’s teams are coached by women across all three divisions.
In other words, 60% of women’s teams are coached by men. 50% of the assistant coaches of women’s teams are men. It’s an almost unfathomable truism to figure that out, how that could happen. There are more women coaching men’s teams, and there aren’t many in Division three, then there are black people coaching men’s teams in division three.
So we have a long way to go in college. I think that the racial grade has consistently been getting better in pro sport. The gender grade has lagged behind, and I think that’s something that the leagues are finally starting to pay more attention to. I think that the racial reckoning, several years ago with the murder of George Floyd. And the start of athlete activism becoming public, when Colin Kaepernick took a knee in 2016, I think most of the public was [00:14:00] unfavorable to that.
But when the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t come out, In the NBA bubbles, two years later, after the shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The NBA not only didn’t criticize them or penalize them, the NBA itself shut down, as did all the other sports. So I think that that, for me, when the Bucks didn’t come out is on a line with John Carlos and Tommy Smith standing up on the podium in Mexico City in 1968 and Muhammad Ali refusing to go to Vietnam.
They paid an enormous price for it. The bucks were willing to pay a price, but by now, sports is finally caught up with it and is now supporting athlete activism. And I think AJ, that’s gonna be a voice that’s gonna have a significant impact once it turns itself into the hiring practice’s. In pro and college sport and athletes are putting the pressure on internally, I think that’s gonna have the effect of bringing more racial, hiring, important hirings of people of color in pro and college sport.
AJ Maestas: I feel great progress the last few years in particular, you [00:15:00] can just see it on the business side, which I’m paying closer attention to. A lot of women we know that have been given that opportunity, that next step gonna be first time presidents. Of course, it’s so noticeable because it was so absent before. But generally speaking, I would love to know if you agree with my assessment that we’re not doing as much as we could or should, and I’m thinking about total impact, not just diversity inside our ranks. But the messages that are shared to say that we’ve gotten more accepting in the MBAs. Of course, the high water market is for taking action, but the NFL for example. I would love to know how you’d grade the NFL on handling the Kaepernick stuff with taking a knee and their stance or in the beginning a lack thereof stance. 10 point scale? 10 is excellent, zero is awful. Where did the NBA and NFL rank and how they handled those two situations?
Richard Lapchick: Well, I think the NBA gets the 10. And I think the NFL, if you’re not looking at the Kaepernick knee, which I knew as soon as he took the knee that his career was over. I said that to my wife that afternoon. Because that’s what happened to athletes up to [00:16:00] that point. And I wish that the NFL would’ve brought him back into the fold.
Obviously that didn’t happen, but Kaepernick has a voice out there now that he wouldn’t have had, had he not taken that courageous stand at the time. But I think the NFL, once the athletes on a Friday night released the tape addressing the commissioner during the racial reckoning about what needed to be done, and the next morning the commissioner made a direct response to them.
I think that the NFL has done a really good job with social justice issues since that point. They’ve had a number of breakthrough hires as well as. I think they’ve donated 250 million to the players fund to address social justice issues. That’s a substantial amount of money. All the pro leagues have now done something like that, and I’m encouraged by that.
I’m encouraged by NASCAR which we do private report courts on in terms of the stands they’ve taken on social justice issues. Inspired by Bubba Wallace a couple of years ago. Steve Phelps, who’s the head of NASCAR is one of the [00:17:00] most progressive people I know in sport, and I think he’s completely committed to doing the social justice initiatives through NASCAR and using the platform that they have.
So I think the leadership in sports is now embracing that. I think we’re still laying behind at the college level. I haven’t seen the NCAA embrace it as much. But that’s a pointed of pressure that hopefully we’ll be able to bring to bear.
AJ Maestas: I hope you don’t hate me for this, but I would love to hear you score that how the NFL handled that on a 10 point scale just in using the NBA as a 10 relative score. Because I remember being at the NFL’s offices talking about this in the midst of it all, and it’s months afterwards. It wasn’t like moments afterwards, and the official stance was no stance. Now that could be wrong. Maybe my memory’s wrong, but I remember them not having an official stance. On kneeling before the games.
It was something they were sorting their way through. I remember thinking, boy, it feels like they would win if they took any stance as opposed to no stance. It was like this very uncomfortable conversation taking place without them as a part [00:18:00] of it. But can I put you in that tough situation of scoring that response with Kaepernick?
Richard Lapchick: He played the rest of the season. He just didn’t get signed after that, which is what I predicted, and they couldn’t make him not play because he had a contract and he was actually playing. But other players followed in his footsteps and did take a knee, and the NFL did not sanction them. So in some ways, they took a stance so I probably put the grade somewhere as a five, five minus. Because Kaepernick never came back after that season. But five, because they did embrace the possibility and I think that the moment that defined their supporting athletes taking a knee was the beginning of the next season. You probably remember the season’s about to begin on Sunday and Donald Trump on Saturday night said, you know that you should fire all those guys. You should make those guys go out of the league. And I think that precipitated the NFL to get where they had to accept those players taking a knee. And the next day, you probably remember, there were hundreds of players and owners, team [00:19:00] owners and coaches that took a knee the next day.
AJ Maestas: It feels like you shouldn’t be forced into having to take that stance, right? It’s a major issue. There were dozens and dozens of articles on what’s it doing to viewership and interest in the sport and what have you, and it just. It was just something I want, we wanna learn lessons from this, right? So there’s the next version of this. We’re in front of it, but maybe you could give me advice in this way. Moving forward, how could we all, those listening to this, ensure that our hiring processes are targeting diverse candidates, are being representative? Some of those statistics you shared about the NCAA those are shocking, right? 50 years after Title IX and that low of a percent of women’s sports being coached by women. I didn’t know that, by the way. Learned something new today. And I actually think of college athletics as being really good. I look around the front offices, the athletic departments, and college athletics, and I see solid representation, but not at the top, not in the athletic director seat. So what’s going on here? How much of this do you ascribe to things like motherhood and family life and what have you, [00:20:00] or how much of this is in your mind, systemic racism or sexism? But a lot of questions in one there, but what should we be doing and what is missing here? How could this be true in 2023?
Richard Lapchick: So in 2023, again, we’re doing the college report card this week we have fewer blackhead coaches in Division one basketball than we had in 2005, 2006. We have fewer African American football coaches in the FBS schools than we had in 2010. That’s quite a statement, and I think it goes back to where you shifted to and during the Hu York remarks, and that is that our presidents and chancellors and our athletic directors who make the decisions about who’s hired, are overwhelmingly white men.
We just did a, a report on the leadership in the FBS schools, the football subdivision, the top football playing schools, and more than 80% of all presidents, athletic directors, conference commissioners, associate athletic directors and assistant athletic directors [00:21:00] are not only white, but white men.
They’re making the decisions. Are they racist or sexist? Obviously they’re not all racist, or sexist, but the way we do hiring frequently, is hire somebody we know. And if we’re a white guy, the chances are we associate more with other white guys. So when a job opening comes about, we’re probably gonna turn and look to somebody we know who happens to be another white male.
AJ Maestas: There’s really good research that that’s the kind of nerdy stuff we do at Navigate, right? There’s really good research that backs exactly that, right? That this unconscious bias of us like hiring someone who looks like us is from our area that has had a career path like us. But, and just to quantify that, for the folks listening, 60% of Americans are non-Hispanic white people, and as you can guess, it’s 30% white men, 30% white women.
So just to put that in context with 80% of university leaders. So how and why is that happening? What do we do, whether we’re talking about universities, talking about coaches in the NFL, NBA, what do we do to write this or what exactly is happening?
Richard Lapchick: From my point of [00:22:00] view, using pressure is the way to get change.
One of the things that hasn’t changed, and it’s been very highly noted in the media in the last couple of years, has been the NFL head coaching situation, which for four straight years has had a dearth of black head coaches. They had more in previous periods, but it’s stuck here and I think the answer is that, 23 of the 32 NFL owners supported Donald Trump.
The owners are gonna be in that decision making process, and it’s very possible that if their team president or general manager said, we wanna hire this black coach, that the owner might block that. I’m not saying that that happens all the time, but I think it’s similar to the why we did the study on the leadership at the FBS level. The owners are the leaders of these teams. And might very well be blocking it.
AJ Maestas: It does tend to start at the top. I just don’t know how to, the stories I hear are, show me the qualified next step candidate. The funnel of potential candidates isn’t there. That’s a really long game to play, but it doesn’t get fixed if you don’t start today.
And [00:23:00] people will say, where’s the pathway? Where’s the next ready to be team president, head coach, et cetera, candidate boiling up from, and what are we doing to support that? You mentioned the National Sports Forum earlier. They’ve done some wonderful things, right. Andy Dolich and, and many other good people there have seen to it that they’re starting at the top of that funnel, trying to impact the business side of our industry. But if you have an opinion or an initiative, I’m certainly, as people get to know your resume and your life’s work, I assume listeners are gonna wanna be supportive of it. So where do we go and what do we do?
Richard Lapchick: One of the things that needs to be supported is that everywhere there needs to be a diverse pool of candidates, whether it’s at the college level or the pro level.
In 2001, I went with Johnny Cochran and Cyrus Mary to civil rights attorneys, to the NFL, to threaten legal action if they didn’t change their hiring policies. The Rooney Rule was the result of that. Rooney Rule had enormous success initially, but it’s cooled off. And Rooney Rule, for your listeners who don’t know, mandates that a person of color had to be in the hiring pool [00:24:00] for every head coaching position.
It’s since been expanded to all the top level positions in football in the NFL, but it’s also happening in some of the other sports. Studies have shown that having one diverse candidate isn’t gonna change things, so you have to have multiple diverse candidates in that pool. Gloria Navarres, who was the commissioner of the West Coast Conference at the time, is now Commissioner of Mountain West, first Woman of Color to be a commissioner of an FBS conference.
But at the West Coast Conference, Gloria consulted with me and they adopted what they call the Bill Russell Rule. Russell, of course, played for one of the West Coast conference schools at the University of San Francisco. So they made this mandatory policy and then the first year after the implementation of the Bill Russell rule, and I don’t care what the rule’s called, as long as it’s bringing that diverse pool of candidates together.
They had more than 70% of the hires in the West Coast Conference. The hiring process mandated that for all head coaches as well as AD’s assistant AD’s and Associate AD’s, more [00:25:00] than half of the people hired in the first year were either women or people of color. The rule works, people embraced it because it’s gonna get the best people in the room.
And the early years that I was working in diversity, we call diversity a moral imperative. Now, I think most business leaders know it’s also a business imperative. That to be successful in business, you’re gonna have to have diverse people involved in running your operation because they’re gonna reach markets that white guys might not have known how to do, whether it’s being in more women or more people of color, that’s good for business. So I think that’s a first step to have that mandatory diverse pool of candidates and more than one.
AJ Maestas: Yeah. Yeah. I’m really proud of Gloria for that and just happened to be, I spoke to her today. Yeah, so since then, she’s taken a job as the commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, and we did a podcast with her, if anybody wants to hear some further details about her path and choices and all that stuff. But yeah, pretty impressive person. It takes a lot of things aligned though, to pass [00:26:00] a rule like that. But maybe we’ll have a Lapchick rule out there someday. What comes next for you? You’ve made so much impact in so many ways. I know you’re heading to another chapter of your career. So what are we gonna see from you?
Richard Lapchick: I decided during the racial reckoning that I wanted to spend all of my energy on anti-racist and anti-sexist work. So I stepped down as chair of the devoss Sport Business Management Graduate Program. So I no longer had to do the bureaucratic work and I stopped. I taught my last class in October of 2021.
So I’m focusing on the racial and gender report cards. That’s what I’m still doing for the University of Central Florida. But I also, AJ give about 85 or so speeches a year, and I realized in that period of time that almost a, all of them were to either educational institutions or social justice organizations who probably already agreed with what I was thinking.
So I decided I wanted to get in front of audiences that don’t agree. And I was approached by a friend who is the head of Endeavor. [00:27:00] He said, we own a speaker’s agency called Harry Walker Speakers Agency. It’s the largest agency in the world. And he said to me, we would love to represent you. And I said, you know that I’m just not a speaker’s agency type of person.
And I thanked him for it. And then it was the next year that I decided that I wanted to get in front of those other audiences, and I realized that Harry Walker speakers agencies probably would put me in front of those other audiences. So I called them. He put me on the phone with the head of the agency, Don Walker, the next day.
He said a lot of nice things about me. But in the meantime, AJ I looked at the first time the website of the Harry Walker Speakers Agency and realized that they represent the Obamas, the Clintons, virtually every major fortune digger. I’m like, why the hell is this guy gonna want to represent me? So as I’m being introduced, to him, and again, a lot of nice things were said.
And then I think he expected me to say something and I, I literally froze and I’m not somebody who’s at a loss for words, but Don Walker. Sense that I probably, that I was not saying something. And he jumped in and he said, Rich I want you [00:28:00] to know that I followed your father’s career. I watched him coach at St. John’s. I admired him as a coach, but more as a human being. And he said, and you’ve been a hero of mine for the last five decades. We would love to represent you. So I started that relationship. So I think that’s what I’m gonna do in the years ahead. I am 77 after all so, there’s a finite period here of some kind, but we have an 80 year old president who’s running for reelection probably.
So that gives me some perspective also. So I’d like to continue doing this. Speaking and working with groups to help them find policies that’ll make them more effective in terms of hiring more women and people of color in their leadership positions.
AJ Maestas: Well, this is really good timing. This is such a big initiative for major corporations, right?
If anything, they’re scared and recognizing, you know, where they’re at, what they have to do. Good timing. You’ve written dozens of books, right? You’re extremely well published, and you’re just not going to find an academic or professional or visionary or leader in sports like [00:29:00] yourself that really has the time to come speak.
I’m really grateful. I think this is the perfect final chapter, your career. I guess that’s my assumption. It’s the final chapter, but it’s the right one in my mind.
Richard Lapchick: Thank you.
AJ Maestas: Can I ask you a couple of sort of rapid fire questions just to wrap up?
Richard Lapchick: Sure.
AJ Maestas: Okay. Who would be your dinner guest living or dead? Out of all the people through the history of time, who would be your dinner guest? Out of anyone?
Richard Lapchick: That I knew some people that I probably would’ve said if I didn’t know them, but Malala would be the person, I would say. Her courage standing up to get education for girls. 32 million girls around the world don’t go to school every day because it’s against the law or the culture of their country. For girls to get an education and she stood up, took a bullet in her face, youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s still out there fighting, and I would love to sit down and break some bread with Malala.
AJ Maestas: I think you know a few people who could make that happen. Maybe that happens and take a bullet in the face. What are you willing to take a bullet in the face for would be ? Maybe there’s a future question I’ll ask. [00:30:00] What are you most proud of in your career?
Richard Lapchick: I think this is the contribution that I made along with a lot of other people to turning apartheid back into the woodwork. I think that the moment that I’m most proud of is that on May 10th, 1994, I stood with my mentor and my role model, his name was George Hauser. If George was alive today, he would be 105 years old. But I started reading about him in the 1960s. In 1944, George Houser was on a freedom ride. I think most people think the freedom ride started in the 1960s. He was actually on one in 1944, he founded the Congress of Racial Equality.
He spent two years in jail as a conscientious subjector. He founded the anti-apartheid movements and the anti-colonial movements in the United States, and he was a white guy. So when I read about him, it gave me hope that as a white guy, I might be able to make a contribution someday. I eventually became friends with him and because of that friendship we found ourselves in Lusaka, in Zambia [00:31:00] in 1977, and I said to George, do you think we’ll ever see the day when Nelson Mandela will be free and apartheid will end and Zimbabwe and Namibia will become free? 1977. There was no way that anybody could predict that was gonna happen. Mandela was 12 years away from being released. The reality was that people thought he was gonna die in prison with of tuberculosis, which is what the rumors were. Apartheid was at its height, and George said to me, Rich, I don’t have any evidence for this, but I believe we’ll live to see that day.
And on May 10th, 1994, I stood by George Houser’s side on the steps of the union buildings in South Africa, both of us as Nelson Mandela’s guests to watch him become inaugurated as president. And I knew that day that anything and everything is possible, whatever social justice issue out there seems insurmountable.
If this man could have become president of this country where he was a political prisoner for 27 years, and the most hated person in the country by the power structure, all those years. Suddenly become its president that anything and everything is [00:32:00] possible. After the inauguration, Nelson Mandela invited me and the person I was with, whose name was Sam Ramsamy, the head of the non-racial sports movement in South Africa to attend his soccer game in Johannesburg with him.
He didn’t go to any of the parties that were there to celebrate his presidency. He went back to Johannesburg to go to this game and sitting in the box I asked. Mr. President, why are you here instead of all those diplomatic parties? And I was pretty sure AJ, that I knew what the answer would be, but I wanted to hear him say it.
He said, I wanted my people to know that I know that because of the sacrifices our athletes made during the sports boycott, I was freed sooner than I would’ve been from prison. And I became president sooner than I would’ve been. And for me was the biggest power of sports story that I could tell or have at the time and still is.
And I know that we were sitting in the box in the stadium where the World Rugby Cup was scheduled to take place the next year, and you probably know that a book and movie were written about that, the World Rugby Cup to try to bring his people together. The movie was called Invictus, and I [00:33:00] have no doubt that afternoon in Johannesburg on May 10th, 1994, he was not thinking about his becoming president, but how he would use that presidency to bring his people together.
AJ Maestas: Are we ever gonna have a leader again that absolutely puts the country first. That’s incredible. That can be a prequel to Invictus. And when you hear about his reconciliation efforts, it’s pretty incredible. It’s humbling to think of his ability to forgive and love and put all that behind him and think about what is best for a unified country.
You telling your Zimbabwe story, by the way, someday when we are not being publicly recorded, we’re gonna have a mugabe conversation. I can only imagine being there in that era, but that is incredible. I feel like you might have even just teared up there on me, but what a moment. What a chilling, unbelievable moment of leadership and what an example he was.
Now I’ve ruined my next question, which is who do you consider to be your biggest role model in life?
Richard Lapchick: George Houser you [00:34:00] have ‘ em.
AJ Maestas: Yeah. Yeah. We answered it. I know that you have this incredible relationship and love for your wife. Ann, do you mind sharing a little marriage advice and maybe a memorable experience? And I know she’s been on this ride with you, right?
Richard Lapchick: It’s an incredible relationship. We’re together 37 years now. I tell audiences and mean that every night when I go to bed, I think I can’t love her any more. And the next morning when I wake up, I always do. And it’s true. It’s just an been an amazing relationship.
We’ve shared a lot of things together. She’s attended so many of the important milestone events with me. We were just at the Vatican together. I was asked to speak at the Vatican in September, and we both had the opportunity to meet the Pope together. It was an amazing moment for us, but I’ll just share that when I met her, it was 1974. She was working for Cesar Chavez, the leader of the United Farm Workers in Washington DC and I had thought about leaving teaching to go [00:35:00] to work for Cesar Chavez because I had some experiences with farm workers myself, and was so moved by the incredible oppression that they were working under.
But that’s when the book got published about apartheid, and I started speaking about apartheid. Instead of joining Cesar I was asked to speak it as national mobilization in 1974, and I was gonna give the royalties for the book as well as a copy of the book to Cesar in person. And one of my students who worked with me with farm workers was also working with Cesar Chavez in Washington, and he became the boyfriend of Ann Pasnak, the woman I’ve ultimately married. And he said, uh, you have to meet my professor. He is coming here to speak at the national mobilization. His name is Richard Lapchick. And she said, Lapchick. And she picked up her sneaker and she showed it to him.
And she was wearing a pair of Joe Lapchick sneakers, which was the original signed shoe. She had no idea who Joe Lapchick was, but she bought these at a thrift shop the day before. And literally had to cut them open be to make them fit her. Those sneakers now sell for about a [00:36:00] thousand dollars a pair. But they certainly didn’t at the time.
And I think that was fate’s telling us that if she was wearing a pair of Joe Lapchick sneakers eventually we were gonna get together and fall in love. And we certainly have.
AJ Maestas: Not everyone gets to have that opening move. Father’s signature shoe that you’re currently wearing, we’re gonna have to have a Cesar Chavez conversation someday too.
Being Hispanic, I’m almost certainly biased for the path of Hispanics, and it just doesn’t feel like they have a voice. If people understood no minimum wage and the living conditions in some of these situations, or if you are undocumented, you know what risk you’re at, how easy it is to be exploited, but yeah, that, that will open up a giant can of worms.
Final question. What do you want your legacy to be?
Richard Lapchick: That people realize that everybody can’t be on the front lines. That everybody realizes that they have to get off the sidelines and become active on some issue. Pick an issue that’s important to you. It doesn’t have to be race or gender. There are so many other things out there that confront our society from gun violence to education, [00:37:00] all of the things that are out there, male violence against women, child abuse. You pick it, human trafficking-
AJ Maestas: Your daughters work in human trafficking, right?
Richard Lapchick: That’s right.
Find something that’s important to you. Find an organization, volunteer with it. Donate to it if you can, so that, I hope my legacy will be that everybody realizes that they just have to get off the sidelines.
AJ Maestas: I was just said to me by an executive client the other day, that not making the decision is a decision, or something along those lines.
Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if you can help. Articulate that better. But it is a good reminder that, uh, inaction is a choice and it’s a pretty devastating choice in a lot of situations.
I am so grateful for you sharing your wisdom with me and everyone who gets a chance to listen to this. I’m so grateful for the body of work, for the lifetime of commitment you’ve had in making a positive difference in the world. For giving people a voice who don’t have a voice and all ironies being a white man to have done this. But that’s real advocacy. That’s, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the concept of the [00:38:00] veil of ignorance. If we all were unaware of who we were and what we looked like in our station in life, what would we do ? And who’s looking out for those who really don’t have the ability to always look out for themselves?
That makes you a hero in my book.
Richard Lapchick: Thank you. I’m blessed to consider you a friend and have you, that friendship that we’ve had for so many years now.
AJ Maestas: I’m so grateful to know you. You have no idea. And thank you, uh, again for sharing this with us. Well, if people have questions or or comments, feel free to reach out to me.
My email is email@example.com. You can also connect with us on my personal LinkedIn page of the Navigate page, and I’m happy to forward questions onto our friend Richard Lapchick here. But again, this is AJ Maestas with Navigate Joined by Richard Lapchick. Thank you again for joining us on Navigating [00:39:00] Sports Business.
Richard Lapchick: Thank you.