At this year’s Dwight L. Greene Symposium, Michele Roberts ’77, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA)—the first woman to head a major professional sports union—and DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), offered lively commentary on the challenges and rewards of their positions.
The two joined moderator David Hill ’86, former Wesleyan trustee and Alumni of Color Council chair, for “Equity, Justice, Sports.” This event honors Dwight L. Greene ’70 as a memorial and tribute to his life and work as a professor of law, mentor, and friend. Sponsored by the Alumni of Color Council and the Wesleyan Lawyers Association, the symposium provides an opportunity to learn about matters related not only to the African-American experience, but also the experiences of all underrepresented groups—while ensuring that conversations about diversity remain an important part of the Wesleyan experience.
Roberts recalled Wesleyan’s small classes led by professors who encouraged civil discourse and debate as particularly key in helping her hone the skills she would need as an attorney. Smith noted that his role as an educator was of key importance to him (“We are most effective when we teach”), as he helped shape the players’ understanding of their unique opportunities and responsibilities to themselves and their futures. “I want every one of our guys to get more out of football than football gets out of them,” he told the audience in Memorial Chapel.
Questions from the audience included their decision-making processes, what they hope their legacy to be, and whether the unions encourage their players to leverage social justice issues and take a political stance. On this, Roberts recalled Michael Jordan’s stated rationale for maintaining his party neutrality: both Republicans and Democrats buy his sneakers.
“Maybe it is okay for a professional athlete to be as politically apathetic as anyone else; they have the right not to care,” Roberts said. “But when I saw my guys wearing those ‘I can’t breathe’ t-shirts, I could not have been more proud. … We will defend to the death the right of our players to comment on political issues as they see fit as long as they don’t violate any laws.”
During this year’s program, President Michael S. Roth ’78 offered opening remarks and Daphne Kwok ’84, chair of the Alumni Association, closed the program. A reception followed the event in Beckham Hall.
To see a video of the event, search for Dwight Greene Symposium on Wesleyan’s website, or go to “AOC Network” in Wesconnect.