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Drexel Units Co-Host Global Conference on Sports, Health and Public Engagement

November 23, 2021

Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Office of Global Engagement and School of Education jointly hosted a first-of-its-kind symposium on sport, health and public engagement. The virtual symposium, held in partnership with the European Association for Sport Management (EASM), was attended by sport management academics and practitioners from around the world.

After welcome messages from LeBow Dean Vibhas Madan, PhD, and EASM president Vassil Girginov, PhD, Vice Provost for Global Engagement Rogelio Miñana, PhD, opened the proceedings by highlighting the partnership between Drexel and EASM and the institutions’ shared goal of creating a variety of educational, research, cultural and experiential learning programming.

Joel Maxcy PhD, who heads the Department of Sport Business, provided the symposium’s thematic introduction before presentations from academic experts located throughout the world took place on diverse topics as sport development, leadership, stakeholder management, equity, diversity, inclusion, governance, public health and physical activity management.

The symposium also convened two panels exploring the interconnection between sport, health and civic engagement. The opening panel featured members of the Philadelphia Youth Sport Collaborative (PSYC), a network of organizations who work to expand and improve the delivery of youth sports in the city of Philadelphia, centrally focused on fostering equitable access for all children to high quality sports-based youth development programs in their own schools and neighborhoods. Moderated by PSYC Executive Director Beth Devine, the panelists included Eric Worley, co-founder and Director of Neighborhood Based Programs for Philadelphia Youth Basketball, Ieshia Nelson, Associate Director of Mentorship and Training for Students Run Philly Style, and Marian Fischer Pearlman, Executive Director of Team Up Philly, with discussion centering on their respective experiences during the pandemic and how each organization needed to pivot in order to effectively serve their stakeholders.

Several panelists mentioned that their respective organizations went on a listening tour of sorts during the initial COVID lockdown and recentered their mission after sensitive conversations with stakeholders. These changes included providing virtual safe spaces and essential services, specifically focusing on fostering the mental health of participants. Coming out of the pandemic and with programming restarting, the discussion’s theme included the need to update programming to include more direct conversations on DEI and developing a healing approach based on anti-racism.

The closing panel looked to the future in discussing where the sports industry can move forward with facilitating positive sport, health and civic engagement outcomes in a post-COVID world. Local and national perspectives on using sport to improve society came from Mike Barsotti, Director of External Relations of the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative; Christine Bolger, Associate Director for Coaching Education with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee; Ben Schlegel, Vice President, Events at Nerd Street Gamers; and Jennifer Brown Lerner, Deputy Director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, with Cameron Kiosoglous, Clinical Assistant Professor and Program Director for the School of Education’s Sport Coaching Leadership Program, and Jeffrey Levine, Assistant Clinical Professor of Sport Business and Faculty Lead for LeBow’s Esport Business Program, as co-moderators.

Creating a multi-dimensional community space through sport became an overriding theme of the concluding panel. Whether it was recreational sport, grassroots sport, or esport, each panelist’s perspective linked to the importance of sport as a tool to help foster positive developmental outcomes. However, as Lerner pointed out through presenting her organization’s data on youth sport participation during the pandemic, a gulf exists between families that can afford to sign kids up for sport activities and those who cannot. Thus, more equitable funding mechanisms ought to be considered in order to create multi-dimensional community spaces.

The research and practitioner perspectives helped underscore the importance of sport in the health and civic engagement landscape. The symposium also provided additional support for the role Drexel plays pursuant to its mission to solve society's greatest problems through becoming the most civically engaged university in the United States and through its collaborations with local stakeholders in the Philadelphia area.

This symposium was also intended as an entry point for a new research, discussion and praxis as the world attempts to transition beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully sport can serve as a catalyst in that process as a uniting language to help stakeholders work toward building a healthier and more civically engaged community.