Pacific students got to meet and ask questions of one of the greatest figures in sports and social justice.
On September 13, humanitarian Dr. Richard Lapchick presented “The Power of Business & Sports to Bring About Positive Social Change” at the Taylor Meade Performing Arts Center. Before the presentation, Dr. Lapchick spoke to the student athlete volunteers of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee and a group of Business and Athletics faculty and students.
At 11:30 am, the Stoller Center BLC classroom was swarming with student athletes loading up plates of free pizza. Dr. Williams, professor of the new Sport Business Management Program and longtime friend of Dr. Lapchick played a short video introducing Dr. Lapchick’s upbringing surrounded by civil rights pioneers in sport, but also the threat of violence, such as when some men hung an effigy of his father Joe Lapchick, Coach of the NY Nicks, for signing the first African American NBA player Nat Clifton.
Dr. Williams then introduced Dr. Lapchick, who wore a black suit with red tie and a near-perpetual smile. He joked that all the athletes must have been there for the pizza.
Dr. Lapchick told the class about the inspiration he received from his father through a series of fantastic stories. Joe Lapchick was coach of the Boston Celtics in the 1920s and 30s. At that time, there were no integrated teams, but the Celtics decided to begin a rivalry with the all-Black team the Wrens. Touring together to play six games per year for 10 years, their games became known as “net” games not, as Dr. Lapchick recalled, because of the hoop, but because the stadiums raised nets around the court to protect the players from the audience. When nets weren’t available, the men carried knives in their long socks.
After talking on the unique opportunities student athletes have to affect social change, Dr. Lapchick answered questions from the Student Athletic Advisory Committee students. As I would see across the day’s events, when Dr. Lapchick was asked a question, he paid absolute and unwavering attention to that person, no matter their age or status. At the faculty lunch, he barely touched his food, intent on getting to know who the faculty and business club members were as people.
The Pacific Index spoke with Dean of the College of Business Jennifer Yruegas, JD, who presented Dr. Lapchick the award alongside President Jenny Coyle. Yruegas said, “The reason we were really interested in having Dr. Lapchick here is because we’re really trying to express to the entire university how the intersectionality between business and social justice exists.” She continued, “Many of the most forward-thinking activities and progress that we’ve made have been created or backed by business.” The College of Business has “almost 100 percent placement for internships in the College of Business.” “And that is social justice at its core,” Yruegas concluded.
At the presentation that night, Dr. Lapchick spoke more about his own experience of violence at the hands of racists. One night in his college office in Nashville, he was attacked by two men who carved the N-word into his stomach with scissors, resulting in liver damage, kidney damage, and hernia. Following the attack, the police medical examiner ruled the wounds as self-inflicted, sparking victim-blaming, solicitations of a lie detector test, and Dr. Lapchick’s refusal on principle. He said that experience was the most impactful for driving him to fight for social justice wherever possible.
From this story, Dr. Lapchick leapt into a dizzying and horrifying depiction of the state of human rights in America. From human trafficking to sexual assault to modern day enslavement to criminal justice to climate change to racism in hiring, Dr. Lapchick made a fervent call for social justice and the end of hate. “You don’t always have to be on the frontlines, but you have to get off the sidelines,” said Dr. Lapchick. He called for people to vote, listen to one another, and love one another.
His command of the facts and data was so great, when Politics and Government Department Chair Dr. Jules Boykoff made his award speech, he voiced what many were thinking: that one of the most important things he learned from Dr. Lapchick’s presentation was the power of facts and research. When Dr. Williams opened the mic for questions, Dr. Lapchick joked that not knowing what to say after hearing him speak was a common reaction.
The night concluded with a touching award presentation by Pacific students and the men’s basketball team, featuring a moving speech by first-year student Dahlia Leighton. — Lane Johnson