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CSPS Meets U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, Speaks at SXSW Festival

CSPS director Dr. Sarah Hillyer with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey team and GSMP alumna Olga Dolinina

Over the past month, directors from the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society traveled throughout the United States celebrating the powerful impact of sport in the lives of women at several significant events, including the 2018 South by Southwest Festival, the Los Angeles Women in the World Salon, and the USA Gold Medal Women’s Hockey Tour.

Logging thousands of travel miles, the CSPS continues to receive national and international invitations as it establishes itself as the preeminent center for sport and women’s empowerment in the United States.

In February, Sarah Hillyer, director of the center, was on the red carpet as an official representative interviewing the incredible women involved in the L.A. Women in the World salon. Founded by media mogul Tina Brown in 2010, Women in the World annually brings together the world’s most powerful women for national events where they discuss relevant gender issues. At this event, more than 200 audience members were present to hear from speakers such as Academy Award winner Viola Davis, heroic British-Syrian doctor Rola Hallam, and Marinus Analytics CEO Emily Kennedy, among others.

Hillyer interviews Tina Brown, founder of Women in the World

Hillyer spoke with Brown, Hallam and many other powerful female leaders at the event about several key issues: the influence of women athletes as role models, the importance of physical, social, and economic mobility as promoted by Toyota’s Start Your Impossible campaign, and the importance of physical activity and sports in the lives of girls and women.

“The Women in the World Salon is a place for the most powerful women of our time to engage in topics that matter most,” Hillyer said. Being a part of the conversation in 2018 is timely and essential. Women’s voices have never been louder. We see the center as a place where solutions can take shape and women can find support to tackle the issues so prevalent in today’s world.”

More invitations followed in March when Hillyer participated in activities with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team, fresh off its gold-medal victory at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. Organized in cooperation with long-time Global Sports Mentoring Program mentor Susan Cohig of the National Hockey League (NHL) and the U.S. Department of State, Hillyer was a part of the team’s official welcome at the NHL and other events at the U.S. State Department and She Believes Cup.

As part of her time with the team, Hillyer was joined by GSMP alumna Olga Dolinina, a Ukrainian woman who launched national table hockey events serving hundreds of children and adults with PTSD from military conflict along Ukraine’s eastern border. Dolinina developed the project with the support of Cohig and Hillyer as a 2015 GSMP participant.

CSPS directors at the SXSW Festival with GSMP alumna Carla Bustamante, San Antonio Spurs mentor Laura Dixon, and U.S. State Department division chief Matt McMahon

After her time with the team, Hillyer traveled with assistant director Ashleigh Huffman to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. On March 11, the CSPS directors participated in a panel, “The Power of the Global Sports Mentoring Program,” moderated by ESPN’s Cari Champion, alongside Matt McMahon, division chief for the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Diplomacy Division, Laura Dixon, head of external relations for Spurs Sports and Entertainment, and Carla Bustamante, a 2015 alumna of the program who has spent her time since the program promoting women’s sports campaigns and softball clinics through her work as public relations director of Naranjeros Baseball Club.

The CSPS has been the implementing partner for the GSMP since 2012, only months after Hillyer and Huffman established the center in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. Hillyer and Huffman’s team has supported 130 alumni from 67 countries in its Empower Women through Sports and Sport for Community exchanges. Among the many statistics tracked by the CSPS since 2012, alumni have engaged more than 190,000 youth in sport and life-skills clinics, involved more than 5,300 volunteers, formed 448 new partnerships with NGOs, businesses, and government, and implemented their Action Plans at an 88 percent success rate.

“It has been an amazing whirlwind of activity in the last three month,” Huffman said. “It can be easy to feel discouraged in the world in which we live, but at the center, we see progress. We see lives changing. We see people making a difference. We see human beings reaching across ethnic, religious, cultural, and political divides to create a more peaceful and inclusive world. And we see sport as a the unifying force of it all.”

Hillyer and Dr. Alicia Malnati of the center at the Women in the World salon in Los Angeles

The center will lead its next program on March 23, when it receives a delegation of 17 international sports leaders for the 2018 GSMP: Sport for Community program. Follow along with the CSPS on its social media pages: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Dr. Ashleigh Huffman Travels to Brazil as Basketball Envoy

For Ashleigh Huffman, assistant director of UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, every day on the job is spent, in some way, traveling around the world.

Since 2012, the center has served as the cooperative agreement partner on the US Department of State’s Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), an initiative that has welcomed 130 leaders from 67 countries to the US for five-week exchange programs. Huffman and her team take a hands-on approach to these exchanges, which focus on the themes of women’s empowerment and disability inclusion, and maintain relationships with the international participants long after the programs end.

On this occasion, however, Huffman wasn’t welcoming new leaders to the US. Instead, she received an invitation from the State Department to spend a week leading clinics and workshops in Brazil.

Ashleigh Huffman, assistant director of UT's Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, was invited by the State Department to spend a week leading clinics and workshops in Brazil. Huffman with fellow sports envoys Jeremy Guthrie, former Major League Baseball pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, and Lorrie Fair, a US Olympic soccer gold medalist and member of the 1999 Women's World Cup team.
Huffman poses with fellow sports envoys Jeremy Guthrie, former Major League Baseball pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, and Lorrie Fair, a US Olympic soccer gold medalist and member of the 1999 Women’s World Cup team.

“It was an honor to serve the US Department of State as a sports envoy to Brazil,” Huffman said after returning home. “This was my fifth time in the country, and honestly, it has become a second home.”

Like the GSMP, the envoy program is run out of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Envoys are former college athletes, professional athletes, and coaches who are sent overseas to lead clinics and workshops for youth. Huffman, who played college basketball at Eastern Kentucky University, traveled to Brazil alongside fellow sports envoys Jeremy Guthrie, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, and Lorrie Fair, a member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team that won the 1999 Women’s World Cup and earned a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics.

In Brazil, Huffman led basketball clinics for hundreds of boys and girls. She also spoke at a women’s empowerment event, organized by the US Consulate in São Paulo, with more than 150 individuals in attendance. Many of the clinics were organized to support participants in the Estrelas (Shooting Stars) program, a collaboration between the consulate and the Social Service of Commerce. The program combines sports, English language instruction, and leadership training for public school students between the ages of 13 and 15 in underprivileged neighborhoods of the city.

Ashleigh Huffman, assistant director of UT's Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, was invited by the State Department to spend a week leading clinics and workshops in Brazil. Huffman and basketball players from Minas Gerais pose for a group photo after a clinic.
Huffman and basketball players from Minas Gerais pose for a group photo after a clinic.

In 2014, members of the Estrelas program traveled to Knoxville on a government exchange program. A year later Huffman and the center reconnected with them in São Paulo on a trip to support the work of four GSMP alumnae pushing for gender equality in the Brazilian sports system.

“The youth we worked with were so eager to learn, hanging on every instruction and asking for continuous evaluation and feedback on the basketball court and in the classroom,” Huffman said. “I consider it a tremendous privilege to learn from them and with them, to listen to their dreams, and to share my passion for sport and education. If I can be their proof that dreams can become reality, then I am humbled to serve in that role.”

At the university, Huffman serves as lead faculty for the VOLeaders Academy, a leadership development program for student-athletes formed in partnership with UT’s Athletics Department and the Center for Leadership and Service. In July, she will lead program participants on a study abroad trip to Ecuador, where they will offer sports projects for people with disabilities in rural communities affected by the country’s major 2016 earthquake.

CSPS Director Leads Panel at Groundbreaking Toyota Mobility Summit in Greece


A University of Tennessee professor was recently in Athens, Greece to experience history, as Toyota’s revealed its groundbreaking transformation from an automobile company to a mobility company at the forefront of the movement for accessibility and inclusion.

In October, Sarah Hillyer, Ph.D., director of UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society, was the only university representative to travel as a panelist for the Toyota Mobility Summit, where the company organized key international leaders and influencers in inclusion to announce the “Start Your Impossible” campaign. Hillyer moderated a panel with Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist and the only athlete—male, female, disabled, non-disabled—to win four of the world’s major marathons in four consecutive years, and Deborah McFadden, a co-author of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I’m so proud of Toyota’s vision for the future of mobility,” Hillyer said. “And what an honor it was to talk with Deborah and Tatyana—both forces for social mobility and the power of sport to transform lives and policy.”

In Toyota’s official statement announcing Start Your Impossible, as well as the fully accessible Mobility for All website, the company explained that its vision of mobility extends beyond cars into innovative technologies that improve the quality of life of all people. These technologies include the three-wheel i-Road, the stair-climbing motorized wheelchair, i-Bot, the Human Support Robot, and the Physical Rehabilitation Aid Robot.

Dr. Hillyer with Japanese Paralympic alpine skier Kuniko Obinata and U.S. Paralympic wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden

Hillyer has spent almost 30 years leading sports projects for women, refugees, and people with disabilities in more than 15 countries. She and assistant director Ashleigh Huffman, Ph.D., founded the Center for Sport, Peace, & Society in 2012. Since its founding, the center has promoted inclusion of people with disabilities both locally and globally. In 2016, it partnered with the U.S. Department of State to lead Sport for Community, a mentorship-based program partnering international leaders in the disability sport sector with U.S. mentors at organizations such as the U.S. Olympic Committee, Lakeshore Foundation, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, and the National Ability Center. Last year, the center and student-athletes in the VOLeaders Academy also organized the first UT Sports Fest, an inclusive sports festival where community members of all ability levels experienced adaptive sports and activities such as tandem cycling, blindfolded soccer, and sitting volleyball.

To find more information about the Toyota Mobility Summit, including photos and videos of the “Start Your Impossible” campaign, visit the following link.

CSPS Celebrates “Wonder Women” Using Sport to Impact the World

For the sixth year, UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society has joined with the US Department of State and espnW to organize one of the world’s leading mentorship programs for women in sports.

The center, a cooperative partner for the US Department of State’s Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) since 2012, selected 17 women from 15 countries, including first-time participant countries Palestine, Morocco, Bolivia, and Belgium, to participate in the five-week exchange program hosted in Washington, DC.

“When you work with the best and the brightest women in the world, every year only becomes more spectacular,” said Ashleigh Huffman, the center’s co-founder and assistant director. “As the sisterhood grows and we welcome more game changers into the family, the program transcends the five-week experience and becomes a continuation of a movement.”

Before the start of this program, 113 leaders from 63 countries have participated in the GSMP, either in women’s empowerment or disability sport exchanges. These leaders have returned home to launch their own nongovernmental organizations, serve in leadership positions in their governments and national sports federations, and win numerous awards for service.

“We are amazed and inspired by the work of GSMP alumnae all over the world,” said Hillyer. “The global footprint of this program can literally be felt in hundreds of communities. For that, we thank not only the international delegates who have carried the torch and faced the challenges head on, but the US Department of State for making the empowerment of girls and women a central part of their mission.”

These are the women who make up the 2017 GSMP: Empower Women through Sports class:

  • Agnes Baluka Masajja (Uganda), mentored at UConn, is a Ugandan educator and head of the education commission for the Association of Ugandan University Sports. She seeks use the intersection of sports, education and business to empower generations of Ugandan girls.
  • Aline Silva (Brazil), mentored at Google, is the first Brazilian to medal at the world championships of wrestling. She wants to use her story and platform to turn millions of girls in her country into empowered warriors.
  • Alejandra Rodriguez-Larrain (Peru), mentored at Under Armour, is a marathoner and CEO of Peru Runners, an organization that uses running to impact thousands of Peruvians from all backgrounds.
  • Carole Ponchon (France), mentored at Women’s Sports Foundation, is a projects manager for the European Observatoire of Sports and Employment who is looking to elevate the importance of sport for empowering women in France.
  • Caroline Lembe (Belgium), mentored at Eli Lilly & Company, is the co-founder of Siki-Lab and an assistant boxing trainer in Belgium. She wants to show sports belongs to all people, regardless of race, age, background or gender.
  • Carmen Pozo Rios (Bolivia), mentored at Saatchi Los Angeles, is the first female sports journalist in Bolivia. She and a colleague launched a magazine and soccer academy called Las Superpoderosas that is teaching girls how to become “super powerful” women through sports.
  • Chisom Mbonu-Ezeoke (Nigeria), mentored at Fox Sports, is a pioneering Nigerian sports journalist who is among the most prominent female voices covering professional sports in her country.
  • Claudia Contreras (Venezuela), mentored at Gatorade, is a Venezuelan former national rugby captain and co-founder of Deporte para el Desarrollo, an organization that impacts Venezuela’s underserved communities by developing and empowering sports coaches.
  • Elvira Dushku (Kosovo), mentored at San Antonio Spurs, is a former Kosovan basketball player and the first female secretary general of the Basketball Federation of Kosovo. She wants to give girls across her country the chance to find empowerment through basketball.
  • Immaculate Chocho Nalwadda (Uganda), mentored at Big East, is a Ugandan political leader, sportswoman, and gender advocate. She works with the Uganda Olympic Committee, and seeks to use sports to change the lives of thousands of girls and women.
  • Malak Hasan (Palestine), mentored at ESPN, is a freelance journalist and the first female secretary general of the Palestinian Boxing Federation. She uses sport as an outlet to advocate for gender equality and inclusion.
  • Megha Vora (India), mentored at Google, has opened women’s self-defense centers across India. She is teaching Indian women how to fight back against violence and harassment, and seeks to open 1,000 centers to make India a more peaceful nation.
  • Minjei Jeon (South Korea), mentored at NCAA, is the deputy manager of school sports for the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee. She wants to build a Korea where sport and education are bonded together for making a positive impact in the lives of students.
  • Naoual Zaaraoui (Morocco), mentored at PGA of America, is a track and field coach with the Royal Moroccan Athletics Federation, and seeks to use sport to provide women with professional skills that will allow them to pursue successful careers.
  • Po-Chun Liu (Taiwan), mentored at NHL, is the first female baseball umpire in Taiwan and a prominent advocate more inclusive sports environment for women.
  • Sangeetha Manoharan (India), mentored at Burton Snowboards,  is an Indian ultimate frisbee player and coach for The Quad. She has traveled the world representing her country, and now dreams of using the sport to empower Indian girls to reach their full potential.
  • Xinyi Hua (China), mentored at ESPN, is a Chinese sports journalist and one of the most prominent women covering sports in her country. She believes sport is about storytelling and more than just competition. She wants to use her platform to bring more Chinese women into the sports media profession.

The program began on September 23 and concludes in Washington, DC, on October 31. To follow along on social media, use the hashtags #GSMP2017 and #EmpowerWomen on FacebookTwitterFlickr, and Instagram.

Pat Summitt Film Premiere a Magical Night of Surprises

A magical night filled with standing ovations, special guests, and enough orange to fill an arena, was the culmination of a decade of hard work by two University of Tennessee professors who chronicled the story of how iconic Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt blazed a trail for women’s basketball in Iraq in a recent documentary film.

With a sold-out crowd of more than 700 in attendance, Pat: A Legacy of Love premiered at the Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville on Sept. 7. Professors and co-directors of UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society, Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman filmed and produced much of the documentary during their time as Ph.D. students in sports sociology at UT. They were on-hand for the two-hour event, co-emceed by WBIR anchor Robin Wilhoit and former Lady Vol Michelle Brooke-Marciniak, with a star panel that followed the film screening.

“Coach Summitt was a hero to so many of us on that stage. There will never be another like her. It was an honor for us to tell this story, to remind people of Pat’s legacy, her kindness and generosity, and the essence of her character that made her so beloved by the Knoxville community,” said Hillyer.

The list of special guests who spoke about the impact Summitt made in their lives as women and athletes included former Lady Vol point guard and successful entrepreneur Michelle Brooke-Marciniak, current Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick, former Tennessee women’s athletics director Joan Cronan, and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame president Dana Hart.

The panel also included one woman who traveled more than 6,500 milesto be in attendance for the evening, Khoshee Mohammed, a woman who aspires to be the Pat Summitt of Iraq and the co-star of the documentary.

A girl’s basketball coach from the northern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah, and the first female basketball coach in her country, Mohammed walked on stage and the crowd welcomed her with a standing ovation. During a public Q&A session later, a United States military veteran who served during the Gulf War recounted her own struggles as a woman in Iraq and thanked Mohammed for not giving up against the odds. The two women embraced and the crowd again rose to applaud, wiping away tears.

“To be honest, I think Knoxville needed this moment. To remember Coach Summitt, to laugh and cry together, and to find hope in the next generation of women and girls who will carry her legacy forward. It was a special night and one that I hope inspires simple acts of kindness and healing throughout the world, “ Huffman said.

In 2007, Hillyer met a teenage Mohammed while leading basketball camps in Sulaymaniyah. The young woman dreamed of one day leading her own camps for girls in her community. But, there were only a handful of flat basketballs and a dire lack of equipment and support. As UT doctoral students, Hillyer and Huffman reached out to Summitt for extra basketballs to take back to the girls of Iraq.

Summitt’s response was what Warlick called nothing out of the ordinary for the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history: she emptied the closets, sending basketballs, uniforms, equipment, and a recorded video message challenging the girls to never give up in their pursuit of basketball.

Mohammed watched that message in a hot gym with Hillyer and her team of volunteer coaches. She later joined a group of Iraqi women who were invited to participate in two of Summitt’s basketball camps in 2009. She is now an English teacher and basketball coach to hundreds of girls in Sulaymaniyah.

“This wasn’t planned,” Warlick said at the film premiere. “It wasn’t ‘we’re going to do this and it’s going to have this kind of impact on these kids.’ It was just a simple act of kindness.”

Proceeds from the night’s event benefitted the Pat Summitt Foundation as well as Zhima Path of Life Girl’s Basketball Club in Iraq. Hillyer and Huffman are currently in conversations with Tyler Summitt and the Pat Summitt Foundation to arrange additional screenings throughout the United States as well as making the film available for digital download. Updates on the film can be found at or any of the Coaching Change social media handles @coachchangexo.

Enjoy photos from the event.

Commencement Inspiration from Dr. Sarah Hillyer

On Friday, May 12th, 550 College of Education, Health, and Human Science (CEHHS) students walked across the stage at Thompson Boling Arena to receive their diplomas, shook hands with Dean Rider, and headed out into the world to enhance the lives of others. We could not be more proud of this year’s graduating class!

The graduates also received inspiration, advice, and instructions for an awesome College handshake from Dr. Sarah Hillyer, an alumna of CEHHS and the Director of the Center for Sport, Peace & Society at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


Congratulations! What a day! What a moment! What a memory!

Thank you for such an incredibly warm and kind introduction and for the opportunity to spend the next hour – KIDDING – 12 minutes – here with you today.

Today, graduates, some of you will be graduating Summa Cum Laude, others will receive the honor of Magna Cum Laude or Cum Laude, and the rest of you – just like me back in 2010 – will graduate: “Thank you Laude!” “Thank. You. Laude.”

To President DiPietro, Interim Provost Zomchick, Dean Rider, the Dean’s Board of Advisors, and to our brilliant faculty and staff, it is a true honor to be with you and all of our alumni, special guests, family members, and friends who are gathered here today. Most of all, it is an incredible privilege to be here with you: the ‘full of unique and incredible human potential’ – class of 2017!!!!

So, what do you say we get this celebration started? To do so, we’d like to start by teaching you our very own 2017 College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences Graduation Celebration Handshake. Yes, it is a thing – well, starting today it’s a thing. Dean Rider, can you help me? Thank you!

Graduates and distinguished guests, the official handshake goes like this – Dean Rider and I will demonstrate – then ALL of us will do it together. If we can pull this off, not only will 2017 be the year we broke the Guinness World Record for the largest human letter – #thankyou Al Roker and The Today Show at NBC, we could also set the record for the largest (and maybe only) commencement ceremony handshake.

Ok, it goes like this:

  • Front
  • Back
  • Up
  • Down
  • Pound
  • Forearm
  • Shoot a Jumper

One more time – and for any non-basketball players in the arena, the “swish” part is in honor of our forever-loved and respected Lady Vol Basketball Coach, Pat Summitt.

Ok, again:

  • Front
  • Back
  • Up
  • Down
  • Pound
  • Forearm
  • Shoot a Jumper

Ok, everyone get a partner – students, faculty, parents, distinguished guests – everyone – ok, do we think we can create the world’s largest (and maybe first) graduation handshake?! Ready? Go. Thank you! Well done!

Research. As you know, research counts for a lot on our campus, so let’s dive right into the very scientific research I conducted……….on Instagram.

My research sought to answer 2 questions:

  1.  What makes a commencement speech memorable?
  2. What makes a commencement speech meaningful?

From the research, I will highlight 2 interesting statistics, 2 favorite UT graduation memories and 2 pieces of advice I uncovered: 1.

Statistic #1: Out of respondents, 70% polled had zero recollection of any part of the speech [reasons not disclosed]. So, this is my purpose statement. To try, to give my best effort, so that maybe you or someone else in your family, other than your mother, will remember just one thing about today’s speech.

Statistic #2: Out of respondents, 100% said humor was the greatest factor in making a speech memorable. So, this will be my methodology.

Memory #1: “I threw up when I crossed the stage – and didn’t even receive anything – no one would shake my hand or give me my diploma.”

Memory #2: I graduated in May 2013 and the only thing I could tell you is that the speaker started the speech by saying it would be short………and then it was not. I’m pretty sure she finished the speech sometime in 2014.

Advice #1: Keep the speech under 18 minutes – now that you know – you can start the timer.

Advice #2: Tell a story that is personal, inspiring, and relevant to the next steps in our lives.

So, based on the findings of my research, I’d like to tell you a personal story that I hope inspires you to be relevant in a world that needs courageous humans to find innovative solutions to the challenges our country and our world faces….all within the next 12 minutes.

I grew up in Bald Knob, Kentucky – way out in the country – the nearest gas station, corner grocery, any part of civilization was 45 minutes away. We were a moderately poor family but that didn’t stop my parents from working hard to provide me opportunities to pursue my love of sports – basketball, football, baseball. I’ll never forget my mom taking me to the elementary school gym to meet my PE teacher at 6:30 every morning so I could practice free throws for an upcoming Elks Hoop Shoot Contest. I practiced every day for months – I was 8 years old and couldn’t get the ball up to the rim, so my PE teacher taught me the “granny shot.” I was ready – the national competition came to town, to the big capital city of Frankfort, Kentucky. Not unlike most nights, I slept in my gym shorts, ringer T, and tube socks. My K-Mart brand Zips high-tops right next to my bed so I could put them on as soon as I woke up.

I never knew who might be out in my drive-way ready to play one-on-one – Michael Jordan? John Stockton? Larry Bird? Magic Johnson? Or, it could be that Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt was hiding in the woods like she did sometimes near my house – wearing orange of course – scouting me – seeing if I was Lady Vol quality and if I was willing to work harder than all the other 8 year olds. You can’t imagine how devastated I was year’s later when my parents told me that Coach Summitt was not in our woods recruiting me – but that it was hunters during deer season. Dreams shattered.

Back to the story: My mom woke me up early that Saturday morning so I could eat a healthy breakfast of fried eggs and bacon and so we could leave early enough to drive into town and find the civic center gymnasium. I was so excited – you know, that nervous kind of excitement – like you want to throw up but in a good way. I felt like my moment was finally here – all the hard work, dedication, sacrifice, commitment – that an 8-year old can make – it was time – time to compete. Something I had never done before, actually. I had only practiced granny-shots with my PE teacher and played basketball at home with my dad.

We parked and I walked into the gym with my basketball under my arm and a brand-new Kentucky blue polyester warm up suit that my parents bought for this special occasion. There were kids everywhere – basketballs bouncing, the sound of sneakers on the hard wood, laughter, parents and grandparents in the stands. And I froze. For a moment, I froze. I noticed that no one looked like me, no one shot the ball like me, and no one dressed like me. And for the first time I can remember – I was scared, I was embarrassed and I was afraid to fail. At that moment, I took off running across the gym and headed straight for the girls’ bathroom – where I locked myself in a stall, slid down the door, put my hands over my face, and cried uncontrollably.

I heard my mom’s voice first. She said, “Sarah, honey, what’s wrong?” I said, “Nothing.” [crying] She said, “Can you please come out of the stall so we can talk about it.” I said, “No.” [crying] She said, “But if you don’t, you’ll miss the free-throw competition that you’ve been practicing for.” I said, “No.” [crying] I didn’t hear anything for a while.

And then. I heard my dad’s voice, right outside my stall….in the girls’ bathroom. He said, “Sarah, honey, what’s wrong?” I said, “Nothing.” [crying] He said, “If you don’t come out of the bathroom, you won’t get to play.” I said, “I don’t want to play today.” [crying] He said, “Why not?” And that was the moment of truth – I had to say what I was feeling out loud and it wasn’t easy….. I said, “Because I am embarrassed and scared and I’m going to lose.” Then my dad asked me a question I will never forget. “Sarah, do you love playing basketball?” “Did God give you the ability and opportunity to play?” “Yes sir.” “And do you think you’ll ever want to play basketball again after today?” “Yes sir.” “Then here are the only 2 options you have: You can come out of the bathroom and try your best or You can never play basketball again.” What? These are the ONLY two options I have? I despised the thought of both of them. Then he said, “You have 30 seconds to decide. “All you have to do is try your best and that’s all we expect of you. We will love you exactly the same – no matter if you win or lose. In life, it’s not about who shoots the best free throws, it’s about: • Facing your fears • Not comparing yourself to others • And finding the courage to try your best.”

I came out of the girls’ bathroom and competed that day. I made 23 out of 25 free throws – shooting granny style and won my age division. It was the start of a journey that I never imagined. Because of my parents and the opportunities basketball afforded me – I have traveled the world teaching sports – 14 projects in China, 10 in Israel, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Saudi Arabia – in 2001 I had the opportunity to introduce softball to women in Iran and and even though I never played basketball for the Lady Vols and Coach Summitt, I did have the privilege of working closely with her to develop girls’ basketball in Iraq – thanks to coach Summitt, there are 100’s of orange basketballs from the north to the south of the country and thousands of girls playing basketball now.

I appreciate my parent’s love and the lessons they taught me that day when they asked me to come out of the girls’ bathroom and compete:

  1. Face your fears
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others
  3. Have the courage to always give your best effort

In closing, I’d love to leave with you 8 words I hope you never forget (8 to honor the number of championships Pat Summitt won throughout her career) and these words are: “Please, never lock yourself in a bathroom stall” I’ll say them again, “Please, never lock yourself in a bathroom stall.”

Congratulations again and thank you!

VOLeaders Launch Sports Fest for Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities

This April, the Center for Sport, Peace, & Society participated in one of most special and impactful events of 2017: the groundbreaking inaugural UT Sports Fest, an inclusive sports festival led by the center and organized by the student-athletes in the VOLeaders Academy.

This is the second year the center has worked with the VOLeaders, a program we lead in partnership with UT Athletics and the Center for Leadership and Service. In our sport and leadership class this spring, directors Sarah Hillyer, Ph.D., and Ashleigh Huffman, Ph.D., challenged the 16 student-athletes to create an event that tackles a social issue and highlights the power of sport to members of our community. The social issue they chose to address was accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities on campus.

Throughout the year, we exposed them to new activities such as sitting volleyball, beep kickball, and tandem cycling—sports adapted to be inclusive of all ability levels. With the support of 75 volunteers, and partnerships with the UT Future program, Club Vibes, and the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, our VOLeaders welcomed 155 members of our community to participate in the fun. We were even fortunate to hear from U.S. Paralympian Liz Baker, a fourth-place finisher in women’s triathlon at Rio 2016, who came out to speak with Sports Fest attendees about her experience as a visually-impaired elite-level athlete.

The 16 student-athletes in VOLeaders represent 13 university sports teams—football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s golf, women’s golf, soccer, volleyball, softball, rowing, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, men’s swimming, and women’s swimming. In July, they will complete their time in the academy with a service-learning study abroad trip in Vietnam, where they will support GSMP alumna Nga Le‘s work to empower Vietnamese women and youth through sports. 

The VOLeaders Academy is a partnership between UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, Center for Leadership and Service, and Athletics Department. Student-athletes involved in the program will complete their one-year experience with a sports-based service-learning trip to Vietnam in July 2017.

To follow the VOLeaders Academy on social media, use the hashtags #VOLeaders and #Sport4All on Facebook and Twitter.

CSPS Empowers Leaders in Disability Sport for Second Year

Sixteen emerging leaders in disability sport—including current and former national athletes, Paralympic executives, social entrepreneurs, and inclusion advocates from 15 countries—are participating in the second annual Sport for Community program, led by UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society.

This the second year the center is leading the program, which is part of the US Department of State’s Global Sports Mentoring Program initiative. It is one of two biannual exchanges led by the center to empower women and people with disabilities worldwide through sports.

As part of the program, which began Sunday, participants spend five weeks in the United States working with the UT center’s staff and other prominent leaders learning how to enact sports-based social change back home.

“The participants selected for this program have already demonstrated tremendous leadership, passion, and ingenuity in creating sports opportunities for persons with disabilities,” said Sarah Hillyer, director of the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. “Our job is to help them channel their passion, employ their skills, make new connections, and amplify their reach. We’re so excited for this year’s class and look forward to engaging in this life-changing experience together.”

Following a one-week orientation in Washington, DC, the international leaders will travel to top disability sport organizations across the United States to be mentored over the course of three weeks. These organizations include the US Olympic Committee (Colorado Springs, Colorado), the Lakeshore Foundation (Birmingham, Alabama), Special Olympics Washington (Seattle), the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and the University of Texas at Arlington. At these sites, the group will work with mentors to develop strategic action plans focused on creating opportunities for people with disabilities in their countries and enabling them to experience the benefits of sports, including expanded professional networks, increased independence, and economic empowerment. Along the way, they will meet with US government leaders, engage in US sports culture, and learn about landmark US legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This is the center’s seventh GSMP exchange program. For the first time, it includes leaders from Mongolia, Fiji, Georgia, Estonia, Suriname, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, expanding the initiative’s alumni base to 113 leaders from 63 countries. Since 2012, alumni from the program have mobilized almost 5,000 volunteers and impacted 100,000 people through sports workshops, clinics, and conferences. More than 90 percent of GSMP alumni have implemented their action plans after returning home, from founding nongovernmental organizations to launching new sports federations.

“Sport for Community is a true game changer, not just for the emerging leaders who participate but for the hundreds of persons with disabilities that have engaged in sport as a result of this program,” said Ashleigh Huffman, assistant director of the center. “Seeing the images of dragon boat racers in the Philippines or goalball players in post-disaster zones of Ecuador makes all of the hard work worth it. The smiles, friendships, independence, and sense of accomplishment reflected in those photos are a testament to the Sport for Community alumni and mentors who work tirelessly to make this program a success.”

The program will conclude in mid-April with presentations from the international leaders in Washington, DC. To follow GSMP: Sport for Community on social media, use the hashtags #S4C2017 and #Sport4All on FacebookTwitterFlickr, and Instagram.

In Support of Harvard Women’s Soccer


By Alicia H. Malnati, PhD, CSPS Research and Design Assistant

I’m going to be a bit more honest here than I probably should be.

A few days ago, I read this statement from the Harvard Women’s Soccer team. As a fellow human being, I encourage you to read it in its entirety. The 951 words are bold and provocative, and I am proud to share their bravery with you.

By now the story is national news, largely because of the consequences delivered earlier this week, but here’s the gist: In what appears to be an annual tradition, members of the men’s soccer team at Harvard produced and circulated a “scouting report” in 2012 that rated incoming recruits to the women’s soccer team based on their perceived sexual appeal and physical attractiveness.

And, before you brush off their vulgar words as insignificant or get annoyed with another story about how women aren’t equal, let me provide you a few excerpts:

“She seems relatively simple and probably inexperienced sexually, so I decided missionary would be her preferred position.”

“She looks like the kind of girl who both likes to dominate, and likes to be dominated.”

“She seems to be very strong, tall and manly so, I gave her a 3 because I felt bad.”

“While some of the scouting report last year was wrong, the overall consensus that [a certain player] was both the hottest and the most STD ridden was confirmed.”

I include their exact words not to spread sexually explicit comments about women across the Internet but instead to highlight the extent to which these young men feel ownership over women’s bodies and women’s lives. Their words are painful, degrading, and outright disgusting. Their attitude reinforces to our collective conscience that women ought to submit to men.

Unfortunately, this situation is familiar. “As if we weren’t surprised men had spoken of us inappropriately,” the women stated. Hearing another story about men disrespecting women, comparing them to sexual ideals, or feeling “entitled to bodies that aren’t theirs” feels strikingly normal. Somewhere deep down in your gut, it probably feels normal to you too.

This normative language deprives women of dignity and respect. We all know that. But it also dehumanizes them, reduces them to objects of use for others. And, when we learn that it’s okay to comment on and joke about women with words that undermine their worth, our standard for how we act toward them is a little bit lower too.

You see, research shows that historically, “The introduction of humanizing language has generally preceded humanizing changes in societal behavior,” meaning that we must first speak about women with respect before we will treat them with respect. Our words and actions are inextricably linked.

In a thick case of irony, I’m in Washington D.C., not for the historic election we’ll all see on Tuesday, but to implement an initiative that aims to empower women and girls through sports. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and espnW, the Global Sports Mentoring Program brings together women from around the world and empowers them to use sport as a way to address important issues in their community. Access to sports, gender expectations, lack of role models, underserved youth, low levels of education, you name it.

This week I’ll hear this year’s participants, 16 women from 13 countries, describe their vision for change, undoubtedly my favorite part of the program. They’ll use their words, their voice, their bravery to challenge dominant narratives in their home country, dominant narratives we’ve all seen in our own country.

Their words matter because change is painfully and agonizingly slow. As the Harvard women stated, “More than anything, we are frustrated that this is a reality that all women have faced in the past and will continue to face throughout their lives.” So, tomorrow I’ll hear from 16 incredible women working to do something about it. Tomorrow I’ll hear plans of action to create spaces where women are valued and uplifted, where women’s contributions are remembered, where a new culture of men and women can work together to address issues we all know exist. And, with our support and the support of those at home, they’ll find the courage to actually do something about it.

I’m exactly where I need to be.

CSPS Leads International Program to Empower Women for Fifth Year

GSMP 2016 class at the espnW Summit

Since 2012, our small team has played a part in touching every corner of the world. By supporting and training international leaders through our partnership with the U.S. Department of State and espnW, the Center for Sport, Peace, & Society has left an imprint in Jordan’s Syrian refugee camps, the soccer and softball fields of Mexico, and the disaster-affected southern islands of the Philippines.

For the fifth consecutive year, the center is implementing the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), a five-week cultural exchange program partnering international female sports leaders with female executives at organizations such as Google, NBA, NHL, and Disney XD.

“October is absolutely our favorite time of year,” said Dr. Ashleigh Huffman, assistant director of the center. “Welcoming 16 women from around the world to our nation’s capital makes us proud to be American. It’s a privilege to watch these accomplished women grow and form an unbreakable sisterhood that will carry them as they advocate for equality and opportunity at home.”

For the program, the center collaborates with mentors and other program partners to provide 16 women with the tools to return home to their countries and increase access and opportunity for women to participate in sports. During the first week in Washington DC, the emerging leaders take part in curriculum sessions led by Drs. Huffman and Sarah Hillyer, director of the center, as well as activity sessions that include self-defense, aerial yoga, adapted sports, and executive leadership coaching.

This 2016 class joins the ranks of 66 remarkable alumnae—Olympians and Paralympians, journalists, government officials, civic leaders and advocates, sports administrators—from more than 40 countries. In 2016, the 16 participants hail from Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Jordan, South Korea, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, and Ukraine.

Working side-by-side with these emerging female leaders, senior female executives in the U.S. sports sector open their respective organization as a host site while sharing their personal business, entrepreneurial, and strategic management insights. The mentors support the emerging leaders as they develop action plans aimed to allow more women and girls around the world to experience the benefits of sports participation: enhanced self-esteem and confidence, improved academic performance, and increased health and wellbeing, which empower them to create stronger and more stable communities.

The 2016 mentor organizations are America East Conference, Big East Conference, Disney, ESPN, Google, Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), New York Road Runners (NYRR), RPA Advertising, Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, Spurs Sports & Entertainment, the University of Connecticut, and the University of North Carolina.

“The mentors are critical to the success of this program,” Dr. Hillyer said. “The tools, resources, and networks they provide the emerging leaders are what propel them to be global change agents. It’s amazing to reflect on the GSMP network around the world and the multiplier effect that is taking place because of the incredible women and men involved in this program.”

The program runs through November 10, when the emerging leaders return to DC to present their action plans before the center, mentors, and representatives from the State Department and espnW.

To follow the GSMP on social media, use the hashtags #GSMP2016 and #EmpowerWomen on FacebookTwitterFlickr, and Instagram.

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