Faculty Focus

Issues in Sport: Diversity in Sport Leadership

Issues in Sport: Diversity in Sport Leadership

Article written by Kimberly Armstrong, re-published courtesy of The Daily Campus

Earlier this year, the Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as the NFL’s first female full-time assistant coach. Despite the excitement surrounding Smith’s ascent into football history, the consensus among panelists Thursday morning at “Issues in Sports: Diversity in Sports Leadership” was that this is just the beginning for women on the sidelines.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.03.07 PM“Issues in Sports: Diversity in Sports Leadership” was part of sports management graduate student Wura Olusekun’s cornerstone project. Olusekun, who hosted the panel, said she chose to study sports management at UConn’s School of Education because of the program’s emphasis on diversity and social issues.

“I’m not an athlete but I was very interested in the connection between education and athletics,” Olusekun said. “The term ‘coach’ and ‘teacher’ can be interchangeable.”

In order for women and minorities to progress through the ranks of sports management, athletics organizations need to understand how diversity ties into the overarching goals of a successful franchise, said panelist Nicole Melton, an assistant professor of sports management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Melton said that her research into Division 1 programs suggests that the most diverse programs are also the most competitive.

“We saw that the ones that had the most diversity and the most inclusive practices, they out performed other D1 leagues, they made more money,” Melton said.

Making these changes across the world of athletics, however, has to be about more than just PR to be effective. According to the panelists, it requires a cultural shift away from “tokenism,” the pursuit of diversity for diversity’s sake, in exchange for ongoing support of inclusive workplaces that encourage employees to reach their full potential.

“It can’t just be, ‘oh we need to hire some diversity’,” Melton said. “It needs to really be tied to the message [of the organization] so that people understand why this is beneficial.”Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.03.21 PM

Fleurette King, director of the Rainbow Center at the University of Connecticut, likened this shift to the recent changes in how the NFL and other leagues handle concussions among players. No matter how supportive an organization’s policies surrounding concussions may be, King explained, players are still at risk if league culture values keeping them in the game over their long term health.

“If you don’t change the culture around how people feel about the concussion, and how they feel before and after the concussion, it’s not going to help,” King said.

Similarly, women, people of color and LGBTQ people can’t be fully appreciated in sports leadership positions if they are viewed as tokens of diversity rather than accomplished colleagues who deserve to be there. This is part of the reason why policies like the Rooney Rule, which requires the NFL to interview minority candidates for open coaching positions, can be less than effective even when they do result in a minority candidate getting the job.

Another issue with this type of hiring policy is implicit bias, the human tendency to be most comfortable with familiar people. As an example, Melton, a Texas native, admitted she would feel an immediate bond with anyone from the south even if she knew nothing else about them. The impact of this implicit bias can be as simple as who someone decides to start a conversation with or, in this case, as high stakes as who gets chosen for a head coaching position.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.03.35 PM“We see with research that we tend to think similar things with race, with gender, with sexual orientation,” Melton said. “If there’s only three old white dudes on the search committee, they might not recognize the implicit bias that they have.”

Laura Burton, an associate professor of sports management at UConn, said she believes exposing athletes to female coaching early on could help remove the barriers to women at the university and professional levels. While there remains a mix of male and female coaches for women’s sports, encouraging female coaches to stick with youth sports past middle school could help shake the idea that male players require a strong male presence to perform on the field.

“It could mean a mix of men and women at all levels, and I don’t know if I’ll ever live to see that but I’d like to move us in that direction,” Burton said. “We need to recognize that right now women only have access to one group.”

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Faculty Focus: Dr. Laura Burton – ‘Playing it Out’: LGBT Issues in Sport

Faculty Focus: Dr. Laura Burton – ‘Playing it Out’: LGBT Issues in Sport

Article written by Abigail Mace, Courtesy of NEAG School of Education Spotlight

Whether it’s the MLB, NFL, or NHL, the world of sports has been cast as a hypermasculine, hypercompetitive environment. While this atmosphere may build toughness and encourage physical fitness, its acceptance toward athletes who identify with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is still in need of practice.

Neag School faculty member Laura Burton is working to change the athletic world’s perception of LGBT athletes – starting with her own students. The sport management associate professor says change must be implemented in every level of sport. LGBT issues in sport is a key topic in her Introduction to Sport Management and Management of Sport Services courses.

From the time children begin playing sports, Burton says, they are often exposed to language that is negatively charged toward LGBT individuals, but unfortunately commonplace in athletics. For example, parents and coaches may find it acceptable to call kids “fags.”

“We need to educate parents and coaches to watch their language to make the environment more supportive and welcoming, so it’s safer for kids to come out,” Burton says.

A supportive environment is what Burton discovered to be the winning recipe in the coming out of LGBT athletes. One of her research studies, titled “Playing it Out: Female Intercollegiate Athletes’ Experiences in Revealing their Sexual Identities,” studied “out” lesbian or bisexual female intercollegiate athletes. The qualitative study, which comprised in-depth interviews with 14 athletes, found it was easier for athletes to come out if other teammates had previously done so. It also discovered that once athletes were out, female teammates were generally accepting – a reaction that took many of the “out” athletes by surprise, but led to greater happiness afterward.

Similar research was conducted at Texas A&M University surrounding workplace culture and LGBT employees in college athletics. In alignment with Burton’s study, a 2015 research paper titled “Creating and Sustaining Workplace Cultures Supportive of LGBT employees in College Athletics” concluded athletic departments with more diverse and welcoming climates were more successful. LGBT employees who could express their true identities and had employees who celebrated those identities had a positive and successful work experience.

‘Lean into the discomfort’

As essential as acceptance is to creating a pro-LGBT environment, Milagros Castillo-Montoya, a Neag School assistant professor of higher education and student affairs, says mere acceptance of LGBT individuals is not enough. In her Leading Toward a Multicultural Educational Environment course, she and her graduate students discuss issues of difference in higher education, including sexual orientation. An early component of the course is analyzing the effect a campus’ culture has on LGBT students.

“Colleges need programming that not only celebrate differences, but foster dialogue across differences,” Castillo-Montoya says.
This means individuals should not only be accepting of LGBT peers, but also able to discuss their identity differences in an honest but noncombative manner. Castillo-Montoya encourages students to first become self-aware and consider their own multiple identities – both the privileged and the marginalized. She uses what is called the LARA Method to teach students the process of effective dialogue: listen, affirm, respond, and ask more questions. With this approach, students can engage in more truthful and meaningful conversations about different identities, such as sexual orientation, race, religion, and ability.

“I ask students to lean in to the discomfort of having conversations across differences,” she says. “They learn to confront the idea, not the person. By doing this in a classroom setting, they build the capacity to talk about and through differences.”

Coming Out in Professional Sports

Transitioning from the classroom to sport, Burton says publicizing one’s LGBT identity can be easier once professional athletes get the ball rolling. When Bryant University men’s basketball coach Chris Burns this fall revealed to USA Today he was gay, the news was welcomed by the public. As he was already well-regarded, Burns’ image did not change.

“People say, ‘Oh, I like him, he’s a good guy; I know him,’” Burton says. “When athletes or coaches at the professional level [come out], it trickles down to the youth level.”

Burton says this trickle-down effect makes the process of coming out seem more attainable and acceptable to college, high school, and youth athletes. She also referenced the U.S. women’s soccer team, which had three players and one coach publicly out at the 2015 World Cup.

Such an inclusive environment has been found in UConn women’s athletics, too. Jenny Gobin ’14 (ED), a graduate of the Neag School’s sport management program who now works for ESPN, has experienced firsthand the power of supportive teammates in making LGBT athletes feel not only accepted, but normal. As an “out” lesbian, Gobin says she was treated just like any other student while at UConn, where she was a student manager of the women’s basketball team and a founder of the ultimate Frisbee club. Today, as the coach for the UConn women’s ultimate Frisbee team – a national contender on the club sports scene – Gobin continues to work closely with lesbian and bisexual athletes.

“We just have to be aware of [differences] and make them seem normal,” she says. “Differences make us stronger as a team.”

However, publicizing one’s sexual identity is at times met with varying reactions based on gender. In an environment where a “macho” mentality is the norm, the process of coming out for male athletes is associated with a legitimate, physical fear of being perceived as incapable or weak. Female athletes don’t face this same fear of ostracization because being lesbian isn’t seen contradictory to being a successful athlete.

LGBT in Sports at UConn

Although Burton says most athletes wait until after college to come out, she’s found UConn to be a safe, supportive environment for those who choose to do so.

“UConn has become a more welcoming place for LGBT athletes and those who are LGBT in the athletic department,” Burton says. “I haven’t heard of negative responses.”

There are resources on campus for LGBT student-athletes, as well as those who aren’t athletes, including athletics support groups, the Rainbow Center, and various cultural centers. UConn’s cultural centers, Castillo-Montoya notes, frequently engage with University faculty regarding all forms of marginalized identities, including the LGBT and student-athlete populations, and are intended to better prepare faculty to lead effective dialogues with their students.

However, Gobin says many athletes prefer to look for support from those they trust most – their teammates and coaches.

“I had an athlete who told me the reason she came out was because of the ultimate [Frisbee] community,” she says. “It’s welcoming, open, and progressive.”

An area that requires more focus, however, is that of bisexual and transgender athletes. Research regarding these identities is less developed than that of gay and lesbian identities. Burton says bisexual individuals experience a sense of invisibility, as they are caught between heterosexual and homosexual identities.

For transgender athletes, questions regarding athletic eligibility are at the forefront of discussion – within the past five years, the NCAA has implemented policies regarding these athletes. Current NCAA policy allows trans male (FTM) athletes to compete for men’s teams, but not women’s teams. Trans female (MTF) must continue to compete on a men’s team.

Gobin recalls an ultimate game in which UConn was playing Smith, an all-women’s college. Smith’s team had one trans male player; because the game was at the club level, the transgender athlete was eligible to play.

“It was interesting and enlightening for my players,” Gobin says. “We had never had that experience before, so it was good to expose that to them.”

Tackling LGBT issues that occur both on and off the playing field has allowed Burton and Castillo-Montoya’s students to become more aware of themselves and of others. Castillo-Montoya’s students write reflections throughout the semester, a “satisfying” indicator of their transforming ability to discuss sensitive subjects regarding diversity.

Meanwhile, Burton reminds her students they must keep in mind that the LGBT community is one of many groups impacting decision-making when it comes to implementing policies in sport and sport management. By representing this community on a level playing field with other groups, more equitable policies will be made.

Dr. Cooper attends 2nd Annual Black Student-Athlete Conference

Dr. Cooper attends 2nd Annual Black Student-Athlete Conference

Dr. Joseph Cooper, Assistant Professor of UConn’s Sport Management Program, recently attended the second annual Black Student-Athlete Conference, a three-day summit from January 6-8, 2016, hosted by the African American Male Research Initiative and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. The summit was a three-day gathering that openly examined and candidly discussed the numerous and complex issues surrounding the black student-athlete.

Joined by scholars, coaches, conference commissioners, athletic directors, academic advisors, student affairs professionals, principals, present and former student-athletes, journalists, and others, this was a “must-attend” event which constituted the most comprehensive national forum on issues related to the black experience within amateur athletics.

The conference was streamed live on the internet and can be experienced by anyone who missed it by checking out the three days of video archive links by clicking here.

To watch Dr. Cooper’s presentation directly, click to the day 3 link and scroll to 2:33:17-2:36:00 and 2:40:00-2:50:00 of the video link.

Conference Focus: Re-Imagining the Frontiers of Education

Conference Focus: Re-Imagining the Frontiers of Education

Dr. Laura Burton (Associate Professor, Sport Management) and Dr. Jennie Weiner (Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership) represented the Neag School of Education, Department of Educational Leadership at the 2015 University Council for Educational Leadership conference in San Diego.

The conference theme was “Re-Imagining the Frontiers of Education: Leadership With/In Transnational & Transcultural Spaces”. Dr. Burton and Dr. Weiner presented their paper “The Double Bind for Women: Exploring the Gendered Nature of Turnaround Leadership”. The paper explored how leadership development within the context of a principal preparation program differentially impacted male and female participants.

Other members of the Department of Educational Leadership, including Casey Cobb, Erica Fernandez, Michele Femc-Bagwell, Morgaen, Donaldson, Sara Woulfin, Eric Bernstein and Richard Gonzales, presented research papers or book chapters, participated in panel discussions, and/or chaired sessions at the 2015 University Council of Educational Administration annual convention.

Faculty Op-ed: Dr. Joseph Cooper – Athletes & the Power of Social Activism

Faculty Op-ed: Dr. Joseph Cooper – Athletes & the Power of Social Activism

Dr. Joseph Cooper, Assistant Professor of Sport Management, recently published an op-ed article entitled “University of Missouri Athlete Activism Dispels the Myth of a Post-Racial U.S. Society” that was featured in the NEAG School of Education Spotlight.

Click HERE to read the full article!

UConn Sport Management Faculty/Student Presentation at NASSS Conference

UConn Sport Management Faculty/Student Presentation at NASSS Conference

The North American Society for the Sociology of Sport holds an annual conference in varying locations. This year the conference was a held in the delightful town of Santa Fe and took the thematic approach of Sports at / on the Borderlands: Translations, Transitions, and Transgressions. From November 4th through the 7th sport sociologists gathered to share ideas, see old friends, and make new connections. Every year the conference plays host to a number of young scholars and well-seasoned faculty members to congregate and share ideas ranging from Environmental, racial, gender, youth, violence, current events, and new / old media the conference provides something of interest for everyone.

Representing from the University of Connecticut’s Sport Management program we had Dr. Joseph Cooper and first year masters student Charles Macaulay. Charles and Dr. Cooper collaborated and presented a piece discussing the challenges and processes researchers face and should use when working with racially similar and dissimilar ethnic groups. Using poststructuralist theory to examine the socially constructed nature of racial identities we posed an approach for disengaging institutionally imposed racial identities with the hopes of providing participants an opportunity to articulate their own identities in academic research.

In addition, Dr. Cooper presented two pieces discussing the prominence and downfall of the Negro Leagues and gave a presentation on Collective Uplift. Every presentation was well attended and received ensuring UConn was once again well represented. Hopefully in the coming years we can increase our presence at NASSS as it is a wonderful opportunity to expand networks and share ideas that are pertinent across the athletic world.

Hand in Glove: UConn Surgeon Brings Healing Hands to Boxing

Dr. Cato Laurencin is extensively involved in mentoring underrepresented students and young doctors. Here he addresses participants in the CICATS Young Innovative Investigator Program. (UConn Health Photo)

Hand in Glove: UConn Surgeon Brings Healing Hands to Boxing

Courtesy of UConn Today, written by Kristen Cole

After famed boxer Mike Tyson defeated Buster Mathis in the third round of a 1995 bout, the former heavyweight champion of the world waited for the referee to call the match, then hugged his contender.

Just a few feet away, Tyson’s ringside doctor witnessed this simple gesture between the two men, who moments before had vied for the heavyweight title by delivering each other blows.

That doctor was Cato Laurencin, now University Professor, Albert and Wilda Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, and director of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering at UConn.

Laurencin has worked as a ringside doctor for the past two decades. In August, he traveled to Venezuela as the physician for the USA Boxing Elite Men’s National Team for the American Boxing Confederation Championships.

“I’ve always loved the sport and the personalities,” he says. “Boxing teaches sportsmanship – the lessons for life are incredible.”

For Laurencin, who uses his hands for healing, his interest in a sport that uses hands for fighting has many motivations, one of them being the camaraderie that exists in much of professional boxing and in amateur boxing.

“In the amateur ranks,” he says, “the first thing boxers often do at the end of a fight is hug each other, then go to each corner and give thanks to their coaches, then the referee.”

Boxing, he notes, has a positive influence on young people. Those participating in the sport are encouraged to stay in shape and stay away from drugs and alcohol. The rigor of training helps instill in them a positive work ethic.

“Boxing could be a savior to folks in the inner city,” he says.

Laurencin volunteers as a doctor for amateur boxers as well as professional ones, facilitating a sport that provides direction for young athletes. At UConn Health, he provides direction for students and young doctors. He is extensively involved in mentoring underrepresented students, demonstrating a dedication that earned him a Presidential Award for Excellence from President Barack Obama.

A Black man who earned degrees from Princeton, MIT, and Harvard Medical School, and whose curriculum vitae includes nine single-spaced pages of awards, Laurencin is undeniably a role model.

His road to medicine began in his family’s row house in North Philadelphia, where his mother operated a clinical practice and research laboratory out of the first floor.

He refers to himself as a “surgeon-scientist” – pursuing both the clinical work that allows him to interact one-on-one with families, and performing the cutting-edge research that recently led to his receipt of the prestigious National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award. Just a few years ago, National Geographic hailed Laurencin’s research into the regeneration of ACL tears – one of the most common knee injuries – among the “Scientific Discoveries of the World.”

Like his role at the operating table, being ringside doctor is a post that comes with a lot of responsibility. Laurencin has the authority to determine whether an injured fighter can continue a bout – in essence, whether to stop the fight.

“My role is to ensure the safety of the boxer,” he says. “That’s why I’m there.”

Doctoral Student Focus: Michael Mudrick appears on COMMPENDIUM podcast

Doctoral Student Focus: Michael Mudrick appears on COMMPENDIUM podcast


Be sure to check out Episode 007 of COMMPENDIUM, the COMM 1000 podcast hosted by UConn Department of Communication’s Assistant Professor Steve Stifano on April 10, 2015, where Doctoral Candidate and guest speaker Michael Mudrick discusses the field of Sports Communication, his research, and the intricate relationship between individuals and the sports (and teams) they enjoy.

Click here to listen to the podcast!

Faculty Focus: Dr. Joseph Cooper speaks at SIAC Black College Sports Lecture Series

Faculty Focus: Dr. Joseph Cooper speaks at SIAC Black College Sports Lecture Series


UConn’s Dr. Joseph Cooper was among the noted scholars in the field of race, gender and sport who headlined the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Black College Sports Lecture Series on March 5 at Miles College.

SIAC Commissioner Gregory Moore remarked “During the past several months, seminal court cases, congressional hearings and legislative policy shifts which now provide increased autonomy to the so called “Power Five” NCAA conferences have pushed intercollegiate sports into areas that can best be described as uncharted territory. The purpose of this lecture series was to facilitate conversations and dialogue with respect to the impact these shift could have on HBCU sports from the standpoint of both challenges and, most importantly – the opportunities.”

In addition to Dr. Cooper, the discussions were led by J. Kenyatta Cavil, Ed. D., M. B. A., Texas Southern University Assistant Professor and Sports Studies and Leadership Program Coordinator, as well as Geremy Cheeks, BA, MBA, Florida A&M University, Ph. D Candidate (Sport Science), Texas A&M University.

Recent publications by these scholars include:






The SIAC is a NCAA athletic conference consisting primarily of historically black colleges and universities with headquarters in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The primary mission and purpose of the SIAC is “to leverage intercollegiate athletics to the benefit of our student-athletes and to advance the overarching strategic interests of SIAC member institutions.” The SIAC includes 15 member institutions (Albany State University, Benedict College, Central State University Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Fort Valley State University, Kentucky State University, Lane College, LeMoyne-Owen College, Miles College, Morehouse College, Paine College, Spring Hill College, Stillman College, Tuskegee University) which are located within a contiguous six-state footprint (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Ohio). The SIAC sponsors seven men’s and six women’s sports and is a proud member of the NCAA Division II.