Bias and Self-Segregation in Youth Sports
Bias and Self-Segregation in Youth Sports
In this episode, we have a discussion with Kaanji Irby about parenting and specifically, the bias and racial isolation in youth sports. Do we have bias that impacts kids’ experiences in youth sports? Do we (knowingly or not) segregate young athletes? The discussion isn’t an easy one for me, but it’s important to look around, pause, and think. Kaanji has great tools we can tap into to dive into this and many other topics that relate to parenting our youngest players.
Enjoy this episode and other episodes of Hustle and Pro in our archives.
[01:04] About Embrace Action
[03:33] Why are youth sports segregated?
[07:18] Adults and representation
[14:34] Intentional parenting
[22:31] Hank Aaron
[25:52] Inclusion, progress & change
Resources within this episode:
- Kaanji Irby & Embrace Action: Website | Instagram | Facebook | Motherhood in Black and White Podcast
- Kelly Walker: Bio | Instagram @kelly_walkertexas | Twitter: @kelly_walker_TX
Connect with Lifestyle Frisco:
Welcome to this episode of Hustle & Pro. I have my friend Kaanji Irby in the studio with me. Welcome. Hey friend, Hey Hustle & Pro family. I am excited to talk to you because we have an interesting and important topic today. So just to kind of give everybody a little bit of background: right after we first met, um, you said you were a sports fan and we talked about coming on and doing an episode together, and that was probably seven or eight months now. And you also have a podcast. And so we’ve talked about, “Oh, I’ll come on your show.” And we’ll talk about that in a minute too. But so we’re finally, finally sitting down, we’ve had so many good conversations and I’m excited to finally get one recorded and, and put it out there to our audience. Um, so you were, or are a spin instructor. You can correct me there. Um, a lawyer, a mom, which is how I came to know you because you’re a mother you, um, in 2020 started, founded, Embrace Action. And which is, I’ll let you say it in your own words, how you describe it, but that’s how you and I came to know each other. So that kind of spears some of the topic of what we’re going to talk about today. So tell us a little bit about Embrace Action for us. Yeah.
Thanks Kelly. Um, in addition to being a cycling instructor and an attorney and a mom to a 12 year old, 6th grader Ed Griffin, um, last year, I, along with some other moms here in the Frisco area, we founded Embrace Action. And Embrace Action is, um, a nonprofit organization that was founded to bridge the racial empathy and awareness gap. We realized as moms of boys in this community, that there is a different level of understanding because we have different perspectives when it comes to parenting.
I know and you, you, and I’ve had this conversation and podcast family, if you saw Kelly and I, our text thread would be insane, but parenting and motherhood is hard, right? Parenting boys is really tough, but within our experiences, there are things that shape cultural things that shape and influence how we parent and how our sons and our daughters receive that. And that’s why we started this organization, you know, and then that’s also why we started our podcast. Um, I am also a 49ers fan. I was born and raised in the Bay area, sorry for your Hustle & Pro listeners, but, um- That’s okay. We welcome everybody, even if they’re not Frisco homers. And that’s what our nonprofits about. It’s about welcoming everyone. It’s about inclusion. It’s about understanding and accepting that even though I’m a 49ers fan, I’m still a wonderful person, you know, and it’s about realizing that we all bring our own diversity and our perspectives to everything we do.
And what is it we can do to support and include everyone, which is why I’m so thankful that you invited me to talk, um, a little bit about, uh, kids in sports, especially adolescents who are going through sports and why it is in some instances that sports programs remain largely segregated. And most importantly, why it is so important to involve our kids in sports, because that’s a way of bridging the segregation. Because when there is inclusion on sports teams, you have the ability to, um, include everyone. And that’s where real friendships are formed and the statistics and the data really support that.
So when you say the word segregation, that sports youth sports are segregated- I’ve done a lot of work with your group. So I’m learning and you know, I’m always afraid to say something, I’ll just say it and you can fix it and enlightened me too. But I always think, “no, it’s not segregated. We’re not knowingly dividing people up by color.” But I’ve also learned just because you’re not intentionally doing it, or it’s not written down that, you know, certain kids can play in this league or this league or whatever that, isn’t what we’re talking about here, right? This is a unintentional form of kids just naturally because of a lot of different reasons and circumstances that the leagues ended up being, you know, mostly white kids are playing in this league or this sport. Right. So, I mean, when you say that youth sports are segregated, isn’t that what you mean? How do you mean that?
Yeah, that’s an excellent, fantastic question. First of all, I would never correct you at all because, uh, you’re, you’re probably much smarter than I am and your listeners obviously know how intelligent you are and how thoughtful you are, but you touched on a point that I would love to focus on before we talk about what we mean by segregation now in 2021: don’t ever be afraid to speak your truth, Kelly. And I think that a lot of us get caught up because we are afraid that we may be misunderstood. You know, one of my concerns about coming on this show was how, what I say will be received. But Kelly, you know my heart better than anyone. And if we wait to find the right words to say, or the right forum, in which to say our words, the meaning of message may get lost. And what I just wanted to talk about is why it’s so important to include everyone in our communities. Segregation, legally segregation has been outlawed, but what tends to happen is you find that communities and people still tend to self-segregate within sports. Like you mentioned, Kelly, there are some sports that tend to have predominantly black players in some sports that tend to have predominantly white players. Why is that? There is no segregation. You know, everyone is welcome and able to play, but still you have situations where youth sports teams, you tend to find that, um, football and basketball teams are largely black kids and you find sports like hockey and lacrosse, those tend- and golf- They tend to be largely white kids, right? There are no barriers. There’s no written rule. There’s no nothing to prohibit kids from participating. And initially about 20 years ago, the thought was that the segregation largely exist for economic reasons. You think about basketball specifically, and it was probably the lowest barrier to entry, right?
Because go to a city park, court, and start shooting. Yeah,
All you need is a basketball and some shoes, that’s it. And then you look at the expense that’s associated with hockey or the expenses associated with golf, right. Um, but that’s not the issue here in our community, but we still have that lack of, um, racial diversity on a lot of teams. And so we think there must be another issue and a lot of analysis and a lot of people have looked at this to, like, why? And generally we find is one of the reasons that we still have sports programs, where there is a lack of cross-racial interaction is because our kids don’t either have guidance from people that look like them, or they don’t have someone to look up to who has done that sport. And that’s one of the reasons why we say often that representation matters and why we need to get more adults and people into these programs who look like kids, um, in our community to encourage everyone to come out and play. Right. Okay.
So I guess that’s a good kind of segue to talk about adults and volunteers. ‘Cause you’re talking about the age where the adults are still volunteering to coach and coordinate these teams and leagues. And so, I mean, there’s, there’s the simple fact of like, like you said, if they’re not represented, if you don’t see your race represented with the adults that are coordinating it, you’re less likely to step into that and think that looks like something for you. That’s the one part. But then the other part is bias by those adults and coaches. So what is that and how do we work towards fixing that?
Uh, the first thing we do is we recognize that it exists. We are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, that we don’t say anything. And we talk about trigger words. We talk about cancel culture, right? Um, bias, unfortunately, as a trigger word, diversity is a trigger word for some people. And if we get to a point where we just stop and think about what this means, bias has nothing to do with racism. It has nothing to do with cultural awareness. It has to do with psychologically how our human brains are wired from like you. It’s human nature, you know? It’s just that our brains receive 7 million bits of information a second and can only process 4,000 bits of information. And so naturally we have this ability innately in our brains, we start to look at things and we form these in snap judgements. Exactly. And that’s based on either experiences that we’ve had or, um, things that we can see. You have, what’s called a, like-me bias if- and babies experience this and show it. If babies see things that look like their parents or the things that they’re around, they start to associate good with it. And as adults, same thing, we tend to associate goodness with things that aren’t like us, like other Cowboys fans are obviously good people. Right, right.
You just assume you it’s, it’s like you said, it’s like, you kind of see it as a mirror and you’re more comfortable and you just make a connection. So that biases, what you talk about an instant decision it’s in your head, you’re not stopping and going well, I’m going to make a long thought press process of here and make a judgment on this person. It’s sort of like an instinct.
It’s absolutely an instinct. Um, and, and again, I want to take the, the, the racist or color or diversity aspect of it. So for example, a statistic or, or an exercise that I use with our, our non-profit when we do adult leadership trainings, we think about YouTube. Okay. YouTube launched in 2004. I know. And it’s hard to believe because who can imagine life pre-YouTube, but existed, you know? Um, and when YouTube was created, all of the app developers and designers noticed that with the beta launch, 10 to 15% of the users were complaining that they, the app was showing up upside down and no one could figure out why these are- They were like, “why can’t we get people to get app right? So after some inquiry, and after some time realizing the app, developers realized one thing: they realized that each and every one of them were right handed.
So they all programmed the YouTube app for right-handed people, because that’s what they knew. And that’s what they saw. There was no one in the room to think like, “Oh, what happens if someone else holds the phone up?” And so the bias comes out in things like that: left-handed versus right-handed. It comes out and things like thinking that people are over six feet tall are men over six feet tall, you know, are better managers. Men over six feet, tall account for 10% of the United States population, but of the male population. But they account for over 60% CEOs and managers of 4 [hundred] to 500 companies.
That’s a stat man. I didn’t know that.
So, so you look at it, it’s like, well, if we do have unconscious bias, which we know we do, and we look at it, how it will show up in our interactions with other cultures, other races, other ethnicities, what does that look like? What happens? And in 2018, there was a study conducted by the National Voices Project, which was sponsored by the WK Kellogg Foundation. And they looked at adults who interacted with youth, adult volunteers who interacted with youth in, um, community programs and sports programs. And what they found was really tragic. And it was sad for me to hear, Kelly. They found that the majority of the white adults had negative stereotypes towards non-white kids. And what those results show it’s just, there’s a high portion of adults who volunteer with children and they tend to endorse those negative stereotypes, that they may not even recognize or realize they have. And what that looks like is sometimes the stereotype is that you think that a black kid may be faster. So you put them in that position. You think that a white kid may be smarter. So you put them in a certain position, or you think that a black kid may not be able to play a certain sport or may not want to play a certain sport. So you don’t even ask them. Right. And so what we do is we need to take a moment and get to a point where we can have these honest conversations, Kelly, that you and I have offline so often and so frequently, and just accept like, “okay guys, there’s a reason that some kids gravitate towards this sport.” There are reasons that some kids gravitate towards this position.” But what happens if we look and analyze critically what’s happened? Why? And then guess what, when we figure out why it’s happening, we can say, “Okay, now we know why. Now let’s fix it.”
It doesn’t have to be an intentional problem that someone’s blaming anyone for it. It can just be what it is and you go, “Oh, okay, now that I’ve recognized it and I see it, here’s the steps we can take.” Like what training for, when I coached, um, youth sports, we had to do different training sessions and it’s on all kinds of things. You know, it could be concussions. It could be, I don’t know, interactions with youth, like all these different ways that they make sure you have sat in the room and listened to what they want you to know if you’re coaching and representing somebody there, their league. So would there be a diversity aspect of that? Like, is that a step that you would recommend for there to be more specific training for your volunteer coaches?
That’s something I would absolutely encourage – is for any volunteer, any educator who works with young kids to take an unconscious bias training. Again, our organization Embrace Action. We do these 30 or 45 minute unconscious bias trainings. And something happens when you actually start to realize that you’re biased, I’m biased. We’re all biased is the way of overcoming bias. It’s very simple. It’s just to pause and think about things. Because when we are rushed, when we are in situations where we feel stressed, that’s when that bias creeps in and creeps up. But when we take time to pause and to reflect, that’s when we start to make informed decisions that are based in fact, and rooted on who we really, really want to be and who we really are.
Yeah. I’ve heard you talk about the, the, just the general idea of exposing kids to sports can help reverse racial isolation that happens in our communities. Um, and that, that sounds like a simple thing, but it is very impactful. Right? And powerful that to think of that there are kids that are feeling isolated, because like you said, maybe they weren’t asked to join a league or a team, or to see if they even have any interest in it. And I mean, I’m guilty of this. When my circles of, you know, Jack’s team friends, when we’re building these little teams, we keep the same group and “let’s go play this sport. Now let’s go play.” And we don’t always say who else out there would want to also play. And then it’s like, we keep, we keep our tiny little tight bubble and we don’t open that up to people who don’t look like us and our kids. And that’s, that’s our fault as parents, um, not bringing them into the loop and that’s our responsibility to do better. The kids, I don’t think, no, we’re not kidding anybody. Parents set up all these things when their little. Five-year-olds don’t make their own baseball team or whatever. Right. Can you imagine if they did, what would it look like? It would probably be a lot better because they would like, there’d be people that Jack would pick on his team that I had never heard their name before because it’s his classmate that he plays with on the playground. But I don’t know because I never been outside of school with us, you know? So that would actually be a better way than how my circle of people do it, where we just ask our friends and, and, um, it kind of, it segregates these kids without us purposely meaning to, but you know, you’d said “speak your truth.” I mean, I, I’ve talked to you about this and I don’t have excuses, but I have, um, understanding of where I come from and why I think I’m doing some of these things. When I was little, I grew up in a private school from kindergarten through eighth grade, there was one black boy in our one black person in our whole school, a black boy, like I know his name now still because he was the one black kid in our whole school from K to 8(th) that I ever knew. And I played all the sports and all that. So like, I just wasn’t ever intertwined in sports with kids that didn’t look like me, like, at all until I made the leap from that private school to my high school, which was a public school, um, with like 800 people. It was a 30 person, eighth grade class to about 800 people in my 9th grade. And I was the minority and I was suddenly like this outsider. And it was a totally different group of people. It’s what I wanted. It’s why I made this switch. And then, so I just, I started then incorporating different- I was then being, I was the outsider and incorporated into their sports and everything, but it was really late kind of in life to have that exposure. But I think it goes back to like, I just, I, growing up, I never did a good job of having other people around me. And that goes back to the people that put me in those sports, in those schools. It was my parents too. And they didn’t intentionally do it, but I have to stop and look at that as a parent and say, okay, “what damage could be, be done by this” or not damage, but “how can we correct the course now so that we’re not isolating our own kids and we’re not isolating kids in other circles from getting these exposure together in sports?”
Yeah. And, and, and, you know, I look at our experience and our experiences as kids shape the ideology that we have as adults, which is one of the reasons why parenting is so hard, because every decision you make is impacting the life of this little person who’s going to grow up to be an adult and make these decisions. And so it’s like, well, where am I going to live? What sports teams are going to play? What sports, what people are going to surround them with? And the words that I think of now, it’s we have to be intentional with what we do. And when I think about my mom and maybe your parents, you know, they probably did back then the best they could with the information they had, the Great Nobel Poet Laureate Maya Angelou says, you know, “you do the best you can with what you have. And then when you know, better, you do better.” And now in 2021, we know better. We know what is happening in our communities. We know that 75% of white Americans don’t have a social network that does not have a non-white person in it. And we look and say, well, we want our kids to model diversity, right? We want our kids to have friends and everything. We want our kids to include everyone. But if our kids don’t see that at home- or not. Or not, exactly. But if they don’t see it with us in our friend groups and with us and the people that we call our friends, then you’re giving your kids such a moment of disconnect. So yeah, they can, they can get that interaction in sports team, on sports teams, they can get it in their, in their classes and in their schools. But if it’s also not reinforced at home, if we also as parents and as coaches, don’t, um, try to honor those friendships that they’re making and to celebrate them and to encourage them, then we’re going to have some sort of a disconnect.
So all I ask people to do. And one of the things that I do with my, um, diversity equity and inclusion, coaching, and workshops is we look at where we are. We look at what we want our world to be. And we look at how we’re teaching this to our kids. If we’re modeling it or not. And then we start to assess those gaps. You know, um, I know that in my personal circle and network, I don’t have a lot of disabled people in there. So my son doesn’t really see that. He doesn’t have the opportunity to interact with people who, who have those struggles, that he might not see and challenges, and to find out from them how they overcome it, rather-
Than things we take for granted. Right?
And it’s like, when you have these conversations and they have a frame of reference that comes from an actual human being, they have the interaction, even socially distanced as may be with someone of a different culture, group, racial, -ism, anything, then they start to grow and we are all a better community for that. For sure.
It is different than hearing their mom or dad say, you know, be aware of, you know, people with sight- with vision-loss, or be aware of this and that. Like, it is a completely different experience to interact with that person, to know them by name, to, to hear from them what the hardest part of their day is.
A hundred percent absolutely, Kelly, you hit the nail on the head.
Earlier, you talked about different sports. So you’ve mentioned hockey and lacrosse. And you know, I get a smile on my face because I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so right. You are so right.” We got into lacrosse middle school. And I mean, it’s a certain type of person. It is a sport where like, we know, we know what the field looks like out there every time. Now that’s girls high school lacrosse. I’m not generalizing about the sport, but I’m, I’m assuming that’s kind of how it is everywhere. So I wonder like what, I don’t know, what steps the sports do. They know there’s a, do they know that’s happening? And how did, what are they supposed to do to, to reach out and try to bridge those, those gaps?
It’s about being intentional. We really need to get to a point where we can say, you know, we’re leaving people behind. There are probably some really, really talented athletes, um, that are not participating in this sport because we haven’t included them. So what does that look like? A lot of times it looks like identifying kids that may be high potential athletes, just like we do in the workforce. You know, you identify kids that may be high potential athletes and performers, and you start to include them in, bring them, invite them to join different teams and leagues. You start to form relationships with their parents. You start to explain to their parents why it’s important for, for kids to be in these programs. And you start to recruit volunteers who are also interested. You start to look at, um, the adult volunteers in different sports and volunteer sports programs and find out if they look like the community we serve. The stat that I give all the time, Kelly, and then I know you probably have to wrap this up. It’s this: it’s about baseball. Um, that’s my next, that was my next question. I wanted to talk to you about. Go to your question, then I’m going to say my favorite quote.
I’m just excited because I have that written down and, and I wanted to talk to you about that. So I, I don’t know what you’re about to say. It’s crazy. That on the day we’re recording this episode, I was listening to your podcast, Motherhood in Black & White, and you finished the podcast episode talking about baseball. And I was like, uh, perked up. I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I took history of baseball in college. I love baseball. Always played it. Like all love of baseball.” And so you got to talking about it and I thought, “Oh, we need to talk about this. Like we could have a whole lot to talk about. But, um, so yeah, I do want to talk about, so what is the, what is the baseball related quote you have?”
So my dad, um, again, I’m, I’m a 49ers fan, but I was also a San Francisco Giants fan because my, my biological father played, um, minor leagues for the San Francisco Giants. Oh, I didn’t know that. And often we think about how long ago segregation happened. We started this episode and you said, you know, segregation doesn’t exist because it was outlawed in 1964. But 1964, really wasn’t that long ago. And a lot of us tend to forget that several sports that prevented black athletes even playing were segregated by law and the death of Hank Aaron just a couple of weeks ago, brought that up again. And he is one of my heroes and I know a lot of sports fans loved Hammerin’ Hank. And what I say is looking at the sport of baseball as a model, baseball was an amazing sport when it was founded. Baseball, it’s fun. It’s an American sport. And we knew how great baseball was, but we never really knew how great it could be until everyone was allowed to play. So we look at sports teams that are largely white sports teams, or we look at sports teams that are largely black sports teams and they’re all good. But what would those sports teams look like if everyone was encouraged to participate and be an active participant in those sports?
Yeah. I mean the examples just off the big examples, these are huge, huge, not everyday things, but you know, Tiger in golf. Tiger, Tiger Woods, y’all. Tennis. And then like local; my example here is like in basketball, we, you know, Derek and Luca are, or kind of this team that now has these like white, you know, European guys that come here. But those are just three little examples and big, gigantic, huge, massive examples of how opening up the sport can completely change the face of it and change the competitiveness of it. Change the, like so many things about just the sport itself, audiences, generations of people. It will literally reshape the sport.
And think of it from our local community. You have a bunch of, um, white kids now, little boys that grow up are growing up thinking and knowing that they can be talented basketball players. And because they have those people to look up to, they’re looking up to Luca, they’re looking up to Derek, just like I didn’t have in my generation tennis players. But I look at my young nieces who were playing tennis now and they have Serena and Venus Williams to look up to. So where do we start? We just start. We really start to be intentional with our programming, encouraging, recruiting all of our kids. And knowing that change happens one day at a time, and it might not be in our generation. Um, it might be in our kids’ generation, it might be in their kids’ generation. So we just encourage the inclusion. We encourage progress and we encourage these conversations.
Um, you know, I think that’s just the tip of it. Like it won’t open up until people, people like me, especially, are willing to open their mouth and sound a little awkward and sound sort of not at fault, but you know, aware that, “Oh, wow, I’m doing some of this, not realizing I’m doing some of this. And now that I can say that out loud, I can say it to my friends. And I can say, “wait, maybe, Oh, we’re going to play this sport in the fall. Like, Oh, let’s see if there’s anybody else at school who we haven’t invited yet. And these other groups of people like let’s, let’s open it up a little and just start to as parents open it and see who else we can include.” And like you said, it might not happen tomorrow. It might not be our generation. I mean, um, it’s past me, my sports life, but for sure, it’s not, it’s not far gone too far gone in my kids. I mean, they still have a lot of opportunity to include and embrace other people. It’s, it’s never too late really. But I think every time that we can open up and talk and do little pieces of solving it, it will correct itself over time. You know, for every generation that comes after us. That’s, that’s the hope, right? Is that it lessens and it lessens maybe every month, every week, every year, every 10 years. It’s just over time it’s so much less that we aren’t having these same conversations about these specific sports looking this color or looking this color. It’s all everybody.
Yeah. It looks like the community that we live in, and this is such a wonderful and amazing community. Um, we just want all of our kids to participate and know that their lives and our lives as their parents are going to be so much richer for it. Right. It just is. There is such beauty when we just give ourselves the opportunity to get to know each other and to get rid of these stereotypes and, and live as individuals and stand in our truth.
Yeah. I love that. I love it. You, you, you said, speak your truth and stand in your truth and, um, I jotted down, “pause and think.” “Pause and think” is a big one, big one that can really make a big difference. Think about what you’re doing so that you can think about how to, how to correct it or how to improve on it. Yes. Yeah. Kaanji, thank you. Thank you for having me, Kel. Now I got to return the favor and have you on our show. And I said the name of it earlier: Motherhood, did I say it right? I think so. Motherhood in Black & White, is that the official formal name?
It is the official formal name ’cause we’re just fancy like that. And we like using lots of syllables. So yes. Um, my podcast, Tara and I are both volunteer executives for, um, Embrace Action. And we’re both also, um, executives for local financial institutions. And it’s not just for mothers. Tune in and just get some perspectives on parenting. Um, apparently my son does not think I’m funny. He said that on the podcast, but some people find us funny and I think that you could find us-
You do? Oh my gosh, my day is made. Oh yeah, I giggle. I giggle at you guys all the time. I listen ’cause you know that, you know, I’m, I’m listening to hear different perspectives. That is, that is a goal, personal goal of mine, different perspectives in all walks or all facets of my life. So, um, career development stuff, but um, personal: my family, you know, as a, as a neighbor, as a sister, a family member, all of these things as a parent, just understanding different perspectives is really eye-opening for me. And I, I encourage everybody listening to do the same. Um, so check out Motherhood in Black & White podcast also. And thanks. Thanks for tuning in to this episode and make sure you’ve subscribed to Hustle & Pro however you listen to your podcasts so that you can get notifications for next week. Thanks, Kaanji. Thank you, Kelly. Take good care.