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Leveling the playing field: Sports and racial equity in the United States

March 19 @ 6:00 pm

In the United States, sports and patriotism go hand in hand. For decades, expressions of national pride have been common at sporting events — starting with national anthem renditions in 1918 and including military flyovers since 2001. Once considered a ‘politically neutral’ space, the sports industry is now a contested stage for American patriotism and dissent — as well as power struggles between white owners and managers and the vast majority of players, who are of color. How are players and journalists using this stage to advance racial equity in the U.S. today?

On March 19, the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project (IARA) and the Institute of Politics hosted a panel discussion on racial justice in the sports arena. Panelists included:

  • Nneka Ogwumike, WNBA Player & President of the WNBA Players’ Association
  • Rob Parker, Sports Journalist
  • Amber Goodwin, Founder of Community Justice and Community Justice Action Fund
  • Moderated by Ken Miles, Executive Director, Penn Center for Inclusive Innovation & Technology

This panel explored questions such as: In what ways have players succeeded in challenging the national status quo by refusing industry norms? How much power do players really have, if advocating for a position means risking everything? And, what can be learned from sports about refusing everyday practices in American culture?


Nneka Ogwumike, 2016 WNBA MVP and WNBA Champion, was selected 1st overall to the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2012 WNBA Draft. A proud first generation Nigerian-American and Texas native, Nneka is an advocate for equality, opportunity, women’s empowerment, and health and wellness. She is currently serving as President of the WNBA Players’ Association (WNBPA) and successfully led the group in its renegotiation of a groundbreaking WNBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2020. Nneka is an 8x WNBA All-Star, 5x All-WNBA selection, five-time All-Defensive WNBA selection, and was the 2012 WNBA Rookie of the Year.

Rob Parker is a bona fide pioneer in sports journalism. In his 38-year career, Parker has broken barriers and lifted up up-and-coming sportswriters. Currently, Parker is co-host of a nightly national show with Chris Broussard called “The Odd Couple” on Fox Sports Radio. He is an analyst for MLB Network. He also is an analyst for The Challenge on KNBC/Ch. 4 in LA. Parker is also an adjunct professor at USC and the founder and editor of MLBbro.com, a website that covers Black and brown Major Leaguers. Parker was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2023.

Amber Goodwin is founder of Community Justice and Community Justice Action Fund and an Assistant District Attorney in Travis County, Texas. Community Justice is a gun violence prevention organization that builds power with and for Black and brown communities to end gun violence. While serving as Executive Director from 2016-2021 and currently as a Senior Advisor, Amber’s leadership worked in support of over $1.9 billion in state and local funds for community focused violence intervention programs across the country.


Ken Miles is the inaugural Executive Director at the newly established Penn Center for Inclusive Innovation & Technology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a strategist, producer, and network builder, actively building critical connections among people, spaces, and ideas rooted in care. Ken began his career with NBC Sports and went on to spend over a decade supporting organizations with community-centered storytelling, advocacy, and creative partnerships.


Watch and share the panel discussion via YouTube.

Then, sign up to the IARA newsletter for updates on future events. With any questions, please reach out to IARA@hks.harvard.edu.


Art, entertainment, and sports shape American life. As cultural pillars, they reflect who we are, what we discuss, and which stories we remember. For better or worse, they form how we see each other — and how we see ourselves.

During the 2023-2024 academic year, the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project (IARA) is partnering with the Institute of Politics (IOP) to host a series of three talks by nationally recognized speakers addressing the theme ‘Culture of Change: racial equity in art, entertainment, and sports’.

This Speaker Series will explore themes including art as a form of protst, the value of entertainment in shaping political discourse, and the historical reckoning of cultural institutions with their legacies of injustice. Anyone can tune in via livestream, and Harvard ID holders are invited to attend in-person at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum — Harvard’s premier arena for political speech, discussion, and debate.


The Institutional Antiracism and Accountability (IARA) Project promotes antiracism as a core value and institutional norm through rigorous research and real-time policy analysis. We aim to move organizations from words to action to accountability by critically evaluating their policies and practices. Learn more at iara.hks.harvard.edu.

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