Be a Leader for Inclusion in Sports

06/08/2015 11:14 am ET | Updated Jun 08, 2016

A commitment to inclusion is a sign and reflection of leadership.

As Dr. Richard Lapchick says, "I define a leader as someone who stands up for justice and does not block its path."

We need constant and consistent leadership in sports on the topic of inclusion, particularly for young people and adults with disabilities. Inclusion must become a priority within all sports, physical activity, recreation, fitness and play environments. We need inclusion leaders -- role models and champions who promote and implement inclusion not merely as lip service or tokenism, but as a legitimate core value.

The next generation of young people needs role models and mentors who inspire and motivate through inclusion and what it means to be inclusive. The inclusive values and ideals of sports and physical activity need to become real for everyone, including youth and adults with disabilities.

So what constitutes inclusion? Inclusion promotes a universal design concept that permeates a sports organization's programming, policies and attitudes, stretching beyond basic physical access to the whole environment. Achieving that requires commitment. The commitment to inclusion must come from all stakeholders, disability sports organizations and mainstream sports organizations alike. People with and without disabilities need to unite together in the commitment to building an inclusive community. It takes a leader to spearhead that approach.

What we are advocating for is similar to what we have seen in terms of other groups who have sought inclusion -- women, racial and ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ community. Organizations such as the Women's Sports Foundation, the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development and Athlete Ally lead the way in promoting inclusion of these groups. Each of these groups has strong leaders who stand up and speak out when needed.

But remember that leaders do not have to be the loudest or highest ranking people. More often than not, true leaders show their commitment to inclusion in subtle, and often, barely noticed ways. A leader calls out the bully, a leader supports the disenfranchised teammate, a leader stands silently in support when no one else will rise up. That is what leaders do. Sometimes, people are also leaders because they "don't." Inclusion leaders don't use "The R Word", they don't shun a teammate who might somehow be different, and they don't stand idly by when people are excluded.

The Commit to Inclusion global campaign is launching this week in New York during the annual meeting for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The campaign promotes the right for children with disabilities to inclusive physical activity and sports. Organizations and individuals are invited to make a commitment that states how they will work to ensure inclusion. The campaign is a unique platform for leaders to promote and advance inclusion.

Leaders make a commitment to champion inclusion. Separate but equal is not equal. We can realize this goal. We can make the dream of inclusion real in all of sports and physical activity. Be a leader. Commit to inclusion.