"All of the glory of all of those World Series Championships dim if you can't use sports as a vehicle to make lives better" - Jean Afterman, New York Yankees.
The unique position sports teams hold in a community is well established, but their role in that community has undergone something of a transformation in recent years. When they came together for the inaugural Beyond Sport United in 2011, the leaders of American professional sports - MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, NBA and WNBA Commissioner David Stern, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France - co-signed a letter pledging their support 'to better understand how we can have a tangible impact on the communities and individuals that we serve.'
The teams in their leagues, they acknowledged, 'hold a unique role in society. They are the cultural heartbeat of their communities, bringing people together behind a common cause.' And with that came 'a single aim: to better understand how we can have a tangible impact on the communities and individuals that we serve.'
It is an ambition shared by their member teams. The New York Yankees - hosts of Beyond Sport United in 2011 and 2012 - bear witness to that, with Assistant GM Jean Afterman underlining a commitment 'to cultivating and sustaining cordial and cooperative relationships with our neighbors and community partners; working in conjunction with them to enhance the quality of life throughout the surrounding communities.'
At the Yankees, that commitment takes in projects as diverse as a New York Public Library Summer Reading Program, backing for the Bronx Museum, the Bronx Borough President's Cup Tournament, support for the Bronx Chapters of the Boy Scouts Of America and the Million Mom March, the Back-To-School Immunization Fair Campaign and a host of other projects across health, the arts, education and sports.
Afterman, the only female Assistant GM in Major League Baseball, will speak about the team's work and more at the Beyond Sport Summit in Philadelphia in September, and we spoke about her own belief in the role of sports in social change.
What role can sports teams play transforming their cities and communities?
Sports teams are natural bringers-together of people, sometimes polarizing, sometimes not. And whenever you have a place and an organization around which people gather and attach themselves, you have a unique opportunity to deliver messages and promote life and soul-sustaining programs.
What sports for social change programs in baseball and the wider sports world have impressed you?
There are some obvious answers to this, but just because the answers are obvious, it doesn't make them any less true. I appreciate all of the many initiatives that my colleagues at the Yankees are involved in, much of which goes unsung and under the radar. HOPE Week is something that is the brainchild of our Media Relations Director, Jason Zillo, and you can read a lot about this wonderful program online. And I think the Beyond Sport programs are unique in that aid and problem-solving through sports is integrated in the most unlikely places, politically and globally. I think professional sports, in general, do a terrific job in our own territories of trying to raise money and awareness as it applies to disease, poverty, homelessness; but I do take a personal interest in the well-being of women, and think that as women grow older, they become "invisible" in society. So no-one thinks to address the fact that women who are no longer young women, middle-aged women, may not be getting enough exercise, or eating properly, and that these women sometimes are solo parenting children and trying to make ends meet, while neglecting their own health. Quite rightly, there is a focus on healthy children, but who takes care of these healthy children?
You're the only female Assistant GM in Major League Baseball. Is that something you're consciously aware of, and do we need to do more to help women succeed in the business of professional sports?
The answer to that compound question is "yes," and "yes!" I am acutely aware of being the only female Assistant GM in Major League Baseball - I am not sure how many other high-ranking women there are in any of the other pro sports - football, basketball, hockey or soccer operations offices, aside from ticketing, marketing, legal, HR and other department where it has been traditionally "acceptable" for women to cross into. What we need to promote is that the qualifications to be a high-ranking front office executive in any sport is not gender-based and that we have to put gender-blinders on when looking at candidates. As women in sports, we need to keep those blinders on - my parents raised me to believe that if I used my mind, there isn't anything that I cannot accomplish, and as women, we need to remember that - smart people, my parents.
New York was amongst the areas hit hard by Sandy last year. What was the reaction of the sports teams and sports community?
The reaction was immediate and, I hope, impactful. The Yankees made an immediate and substantial donation towards relief, and our manager and players who live locally immediately jumped into action, making appearances, purchasing food, clothes and other items and packing boxes of relief, donating from their own foundations. When catastrophic events occur, I always have a concern about what happens to people six months down the road, when the focus leaves them. Nine months down the road, families in our area are not the first story on local news, but they are still in desperate need. We live in a world where most people have an immediate and caring impulsive reaction to people in need. We give and support and care and do for others at the point of disaster. But what happens to those people when the spotlight leaves them? I try to mark six months or 12 months down the road in my calendar, as a reminder to go back and give a little more.
You will be joining a wide range of teams, programs, businesses and organisations in Philadelphia for the Beyond Sport Summit in September. What value is there to teams and the major leagues in a gathering like this, and how can it benefit your work?
Beyond Sport has a beautiful message. I have to go back to what I said earlier - that professional sports teams are bringers-together of people, and extraordinary message-deliverers, if you will. The power of sports organizations to say that we must go beyond sport and we must do it in a united way, quite apart from being a play-on-words, has real substance and meaning. The New York Yankees are the most storied franchise in sports, but when we hosted Beyond Sports United, our message was very clear - all of the glory of all of those World Series Championships dim if you can't use sports as a vehicle to make lives better.
Follow Nick Keller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Nickbeyond