University hosts fourth annual “Power of Sport” symposium

Posted on Feb 6, 2018 in Alumni News and News

Claire Smith | Power of Sport Symposium

The University of Kansas celebrated Langston Hughes’ birthday with its fourth annual “The Power of Sport: A Conversation on Business, Race and Sports” symposium on Feb. 1. The event featured panelists Lafayette Norwood, a former KU basketball assistant coach, and Darnell Valentine, a KU All-American and former player for the Portland Trail Blazers. Claire Smith, a sports writer and news editor for ESPN, was the keynote speaker.

Life in Wichita in the 1980s

Dr. Shawn Leigh Alexander, associate professor and director of graduate studies for the Department of African and African-American Studies, led the evening and interviewed both Norwood and Valentine to dig deeper into what life was like in Wichita during the 1980s. Valentine explained that growing up, his entire world existed within a three-block radius, but basketball allowed him to broaden his perspective. He was the star of his team at Wichita Heights High School under Coach Norwood; when Norwood became an assistant at KU, it was a no-brainer for Valentine to follow.

Aside from being an successful athlete, Valentine was also an academic All-American. When faced with any issue, whether it involved school, relationships, or athletics, Coach Norwood asked Valentine, “what is the worst case scenario?” With this as his motivation, Valentine says having a college degree and being prepared to do something other than basketball was always in his mind.

Smith delivers keynote

Later in the evening, Smith gave her keynote address and recalled how she fell in love with sports. Her parents loved a nation that did not always love them back, but they showed an admiration for sports that was contagious. They had the ability to make Smith feel as though the star athletes were part of the family. One day Smith watched The Jackie Robinson Story at school and from then on was hooked. “Jackie mixed grit and grace and a grim determination to sacrifice for the greater good. He hasn’t played in over half a century and yet he still inspires; he still inspires me,” Smith said.

The “lost generation”

Smith laments the era of Michael Jordan as the “lost generation.” Sports were no longer arenas for social and political discussion, and black athletes appeared content simply making money instead of using the voice their notoriety gave them. “People so easily disappeared beyond their gated communities, sold products, and forgot that many of the kids pining to wear their shoes were even hungrier for role models,” Smith said. With the return of politics in sports, Smith notes that there will always be consequences for standing up—or even sitting down—and the media will always ask “why?,” but we should never expect to hear regrets.

All three guest speakers addressed the need for black athletes to represent, and more specifically, to represent the voices other people do not have. Using one’s name and notoriety is a powerful tool, because the world is always watching.

—Brianna Mears

Editor’s note: Brianna Mears is a digital media intern for the KU Alumni Association. She is a fourth-generation Jayhawk and a sophomore in the University Honors Program majoring in strategic communications with a minor in business and African & African-American studies. She is also a member of the Journalism Student Leadership Board, a J-School Ambassador and a member of the Student Alumni Leadership Board.

Read about past symposium events, and watch the fourth annual “Power of Sport” symposium below in its entirety.



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Harry Edwards headlines symposium on business, race and sports

Posted on Feb 7, 2017 in Alumni News and News

IMG_news_powerofsport17tallThe KU School of Business, the Langston Hughes Center and KU Athletics hosted “The Power of Sport: A Conversation on Business, Race and Sports” last week at the University of Kansas.

The event featured a panel discussion with former KU student-athletes, including former KU women’s basketball and WNBA player Tamecka Dixon, and former KU track athlete and Olympic gold medalist, Billy Mills. Shawn Alexander, associate professor and graduate director of African & African-American studies and director of the Langston Hughes Center moderated the discussion.

Following the panel discussion, sports sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, Harry Edwards delivered the keynote address to a crowded ballroom in the Kansas Union. Edwards has consulted on diversity issues for the MLB, NBA and NFL. He is the author of numerous articles and four books focusing on issues of race and sports.

The event’s organizer, Shawn Alexander, anticipated the conversation would attract strong interest from the KU community.

“Sport is a microcosm of society that allows us to talk about many issues, including corporate power, race, gender, homophobia, urban planning, health and labor,” Alexander said. “For the past two years, KU has been at the forefront of this discussion with its annual symposium.”

Last year’s event, featuring The Nation’s sports editor and author Dave Zirin, was live streamed by the KU Alumni Association, and the video can be watched here or on the Association’s YouTube channel. New York Times sports columnist and author William Rhoden delivered the inaugural keynote address in 2015.

This year’s event was co-sponsored by the KU Alumni Association, the Office of the Provost, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the K Club and the KU departments of African & African-American Studies; Health, Sport and Exercise Sciences; Sociology; and Political Science.

The event was free but registrations filled up quickly. A full rebroadcast of the event is available below and at It can also be viewed on the Association’s YouTube channel. Alumni can follow the discussion on Twitter by searching the hashtag #KUracesports.

–David Johnston

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The Power of Sport: A Conversation on Business, Race and Sports

Posted on Feb 26, 2016 in Alumni News and News

Power of Sport symposium via
KU School of Business Power of Sport event | www.kualumni.orgOn Feb. 18, the KU Alumni Association co-sponsored “The Power of Sport: A Conversation on Business, Race and Sports,” presented by the KU School of Business, the Langston Hughes Center and Kansas Athletics. The second annual event featured a panel discussion with former KU student-athletes Ernie Shelby, f’59, Lisa Braddy, ’92, and Wayne Simien, c’05, moderated by Shawn Leigh Alexander of the Langston Hughes Center. Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation magazine, provided the keynote address.

Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni attended the event held in the Kansas Union ballroom, and alumni all across the country watched the conversation streamed live online at Several current Jayhawk student-athletes were spotted in the audience, including the entire KU men’s basketball team. The evening’s conversation spilled over onto social media, as #KUracesports became a trending topic in the area on Twitter.

The entire event is available to watch below or on YouTube. The KU Alumni Association was proud to partner with the KU departments of African & African-American Studies; Health, Sport & Exercise Sciences and K Club in supporting this important KU event.

The event begins at the 13:05 mark with a welcome from Dr. Sheahon Zenger, KU director of athletics.
–David Johnston

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