THE BLOG

Celebrating the Humanitarian in Sport

06/30/2015 09:26 am ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016

Muhammad Ali. Billie Jean King. John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Just as we celebrate the athletes who score amazing goals and bring us fantastic finishes, it is equally important to celebrate the humanitarians who utilize the platform of sport to champion social issues and social change. Sport can achieve its greatness and full potential when we truly appreciate and value the humanitarian side of the sport industry.

Humanitarianism is central to the mission and purpose of sport. No longer a sidebar or a footnote, humanitarianism is now core to the narrative and experience of what sport is all about. The actions of humanitarians in sport are not one-time moments, an act of charity or a flash in the pan. Instead, humanitarians exhibit a daily, long-term commitment and engagement at all levels and in all aspects of the sporting environment.

Celebrating athletes, coaches, administrators or other contributors in sport for their citizenship and humanitarian work results in a greater integration of their passion, interests and identity as a whole person engaging in the sporting arena. Rather than living in silos or closeted in humanitarian work, bringing a commitment to social issues through sport can often help people perform better on the playing field, or in their jobs and roles within sport.

Teamwork and critical thinking can potentially be translated toward engagement in civic and humanitarian work. There is an opportunity to cultivate, celebrate, and value this intersection between sport and humanitarianism. These are the stories we need to tell, the stories we need to uncover and utilize to motivate and inspire the world. Ultimately, the power of sport rests in the alignment of sport and humanitarian purpose.

The ESPN Humanitarian Awards are a game-changer, a critical statement to give voice, visibility, and vitality to the humanitarian in sport. This will create momentum and give increased permission and choice to engage meaningfully and deeply as citizen-athletes, citizen-coaches, citizen-administrators, citizen-teams and citizen-sport organizations.

The ESPYS celebrates the best athletes on the pitch, the court and field. Now with the Humanitarian Awards, ESPN completes the celebration of athletes. We all recognize that athletes and sports teams have now become heroes for our children and icons in society. With that celebrity comes a new responsibility as citizen athletes. That platform now comes with an obligation to use the power of sport to better our society. Muhammad Ali said it best, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth." Most of celebrity athletes can now buy hundreds of rooms -- now it's time to see service to community move to the next level.

Athletes like Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, John Carlos and Tommie Smith have made a commitment to social change in and through sport and have been recognized as pioneering the pathways for being a humanitarian in sport. We now have an opportunity to further nurture the seeds they planted by growing this energy and developing future generations of humanitarians throughout all of sport. This is the sport that we all want to see, embrace and celebrate.