The Politics of Sports

PODCAST | ep10 | with Susie Petruccelli, Justin Morrow, and Isabel Jijón

There’s a shadow over World Cup Soccer this year, and it’s become impossible to separate the sports from the politics. Host country Qatar gained notoriety for bribes, exploitation of workers, and antigay laws. In this episode, a group of athletes and scholars take a close look at the concept of “sportswashing” and consider what’s at stake for professional athletes who might want to take a stand against a host country’s civil and human rights abuses. 

Headshots of all three panelists on this podcast episode

Listen to episode #10 (49:37) by clicking the play button below:


In his role as an activist, Justin Morrow explains some of the successes of Black Players for Change, an organization he cofounded to address discrimination against Blacks in soccer and all sports. Susie Petruccelli talks about her efforts to challenge FIFA’s wage gap for women players. Sociologist Isabel Jijón gives examples of how sportswashing can backfire for a host country. She shares some feedback from her students about the backlash against athletes who stand up.

High-profile players can bring attention to important issues but also expose themselves to retaliation by their governments. The group talks about the video created by the Australian National Soccer team representing a collective action to speak out against human rights abuses in Qatar. They also consider whether high-profile athletes have a moral obligation to use their platform and influence to bring injustices to light.

Disclaimer: This podcast was recorded on November 10, 2022, before the Iranian national team refused to sing the national anthem at its first game against England; before Iranian soccer player Voria Ghafouri was arrested for his criticism of his government’s crackdown on women’s rights protesters; and before FIFA threatened to ban players who wore rainbow armbands. 

Guest Host:

Ted Gilman, Executive Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.


Susie Petruccelli, Global Sports Fellow, Weatherhead Research Cluster on Global Transformations (WIGH). Author and Producer.

Justin Morrow, 2021–2022 Visiting Fellow, Weatherhead Research Cluster on Global Transformations (WIGH). Executive Director, Black Players for Change; Technical Development Manager, Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment.

Isabel Jijón, Harvard College Fellow, Department of Sociology, Harvard University. Research Consultant, Child Protection and Development Team, UNICEF.


Michelle Nicholasen, Editor and Content Producer, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

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TED GILMAN: Welcome to the Epicenter podcast from the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. I'm Executive Director Ted Gilman sitting in for Erin Goodman. Today we're taking a close look at the politics of sports. 


International sports bring joy to millions of fans in countries all over the world. Events like the Olympics, World Cup Soccer, and various regional events bring people together, if only virtually, putting aside our differences for a while for the sheer love of the game or a game. But there's a dark side to global sports that we can't ignore-- inequalities, human rights abuses, racism, sexism. Social issues and politics invade sports, and they operate on a global and individual level. 

Today, we'll discuss the tension between the joy of sports and the inequalities and injustices woven into them. Let's start with Qatar overshadowing. World Cup soccer this fall is the notoriety Qatar and FIFA have earned for egregious human rights violations in the construction of World Cup facilities. 

The facts are out there-- the recruitment of tens of thousands of migrant laborers from the Global South, oppressive working conditions described as modern slavery, 6,500 workers killed in the five years it took to build the stadiums, hotels, airport, metro, and roads. We're going to talk about the World Cup and much more. 

Joining us for this conversation are two athletes and a sociologist. Susie Petruccelli is an author, producer, and tech professional. She supports individuals and organizations that grow opportunities and safety for girls, and is currently working to understand and close gender gaps in pay and prize money. Susie is a former captain of the Harvard women's soccer team and co-chair of the Friends of Harvard Soccer. 

Justin Morrow is a former Major League Soccer player and current technical development manager for Toronto FC. In 2020, he and a group of peers co-founded Black Players for Change, a coalition that promotes diversity and equality in soccer and all sports. Both Susie and Justin are visiting fellows with the Weatherhead Center's Research Cluster on Global Transformations. And they are here at Harvard to study social movements and activism in the sports space. 

And we also have with us Isabel Jijon, a sociologist who studies culture, inequality, and globalization. She's currently a Harvard College fellow teaching a seminar on human rights and a lecture class on the sociology of sport. Thanks to all three of you for joining today. I'd like to turn first to our athletes in the conversation. 

How do you, or how do we, reconcile these realities with the sport you love? How are players responding to the abuse in Qatar? Has the response been effective? Why don't we turn first to Susie? 

SUSIE PETRUCCELLI: Hi, Ted. Thanks so much for having me. This is so exciting. And actually, maybe exciting is not the right word for this conversation. But I'm excited to be here. So reconciling the atrocities-- I don't know if that's really what we're trying to do. Obviously, I think that we can hope to stand up to them as much as possible. And I also think that we have a responsibility to try to prepare the next generation of athletes to also stand up to them. 

And we do that by explaining the history, building consensus, building trust, building good leaders for the future. And I do know that-- and I'm sure Justin knows more about this than I do-- but a lot of the European players have decided to wear armbands that are in protest of what's going on, not necessarily in terms of-- not just to protest the way the stadiums were built and those human rights, issues but also the treatment of the LGBT community in Qatar. 

TED GILMAN: Thank you. Justin, do you to add to that, or follow on? 

JUSTIN MORROW: Yeah, I think Susie's spot on. I think athletes have been doing a fantastic job raising these issues and these challenges about this upcoming World Cup. The Australian Men's National team put out a video. As Susie mentioned, there's been a number of players in Europe that have spoken up about Qatar and the way that they treat the gay community. So through things like these players are doing a fantastic job, and we see it on social media. 

But it's always a balance. Because at the end of the day, when you're a professional athlete, you only have so long in your career. And so for players to sit out, which no one has chosen to do, is a really difficult thing to put on to players. And I see more responsibility on our corporate sponsors and everyone else surrounding the World Cup that has let it go on the way that it is. 

And every day, there's a new article concerning this World Cup. But everyone is going to watch, and it's going to go on. And that's just a broader reflection of what's happening in our society on a number of different issues. And so it's complicated. But I do think that the athletes have been doing a fantastic job. 

TED GILMAN: Thank you. I saw that video that the Australian team put out. And I was really moved by that. And I'm curious if we could spend a little time talking about that and to get your collective reactions to a team putting out a video, basically, making a very strong, clear statement. 

JUSTIN MORROW: Yeah, for me it was really empowering. And it shows where athletes are right now and the way that they're leveraging their agency and their platforms and everything that comes along with being a professional athlete. I was really proud of them. Something else that's not necessarily related to the World Cup, but just a little bit, is the Iranian Men's National team and the way they supported the women and the revolution that's happening in Iran right now, with the consequence, knowing that their country might not let them participate in the World Cup. 

And I mentioned previously how important going to a World Cup for any player is. It's really the hallmark of your career. And so for those guys to put that on the line in support of the women in Iran, I thought that was fantastic. And so we see it happening in a number of different ways. 

TED GILMAN: Great. Thank you. Isabel, as a sociologist, did you want to chime in on this? And what do you see from your perspective? 

ISABEL JIJON: Thank you, Ted. Yes. I'm currently teaching a class on sociology of sport. And I've been talking a lot to the students about how they see the intersection of sport and politics. And one of the things that keeps coming up in our conversation is the platform that athletes have and the reach that they have, just to make a message known and to convince people to pay attention to certain issues. 

And so I think that athletes are increasingly aware of that, and using all of the eyeballs that are already on them because of their athletic performance, and using it to promote social causes, political causes like the Australian National team. The students themselves however even brought up the issue that this is a double-edged sword and that sometimes the athletes face a lot of significant backlash, and that they themselves worry and question what they would do in their place. 

And I think that makes the statements that athletes make, like the Australian team, even more valuable. Because it shows fans, athletes, student athletes, people watching, that even though there's a risk, that it's a risk worth taking. And that makes the message all the more powerful. But I've been surprised by the support and also, unfortunately, surprised by some of the backlash that the team has been receiving on the media and on social media, people saying, this is just virtue signaling. This is just some kind of moral performance. And not wanting to listen to the message itself. 

And that's something that the students bring up in class a lot, that they are very aware of and that there is no easy answer for how to convince people about the importance of certain issues. 

TED GILMAN: You bring up a really good point about the economics of this. And I wondered as I watched the Australian players, what position do they have to be in to be able to make this statement? What position in life, in terms of economic stability, in terms of their own sense of standing and power in their community do they have to put out a statement as they did? And I'd be curious to know what you think of that and what an athletic and an academic perspective might be on that. 

SUSIE PETRUCCELLI: I'm looking at something like this. It brings me back to what was going on with the US Women's National Soccer team and how they were able to build-- again, it starts with great leaders. It starts with educated people. It starts with building a consensus in the team, like I was talking about. 

In the case of the US Women's National team, their movement for equality started with a personal connection between Julie Foudy and the leaders of the Women's National Team and Billie Jean King. And Billie was so wise to realize in her career that the power, the leverage, that the players really have is are they going to play or not play? And the only way that leverage works is if you have the entire collective of the team all on the same page. And that's obviously a huge challenge. 

So I think that in terms of the Australian men, I think they must have some absolutely incredible leaders on their team. I believe they must have pretty clear support from at least a few key people in their federation in order to feel at least safe in some level, in order to put something out so publicly. And I give credit to them. I think it gives us all hope that there are big communities of people in the world that are willing to put themselves on the line and their careers on the line for these important social justice issues. 

TED GILMAN: Thank you. Justin, did you want to follow up on that? 

JUSTIN MORROW: Yeah, I was going to say the nuance that Isabel was talking about, and what her students have been speaking about-- this double-edged sword-- comes in the different shapes and sizes that athletes are built and the different profiles that we have. So if you take a Megan Rapinoe, for instance, and how well she has used her brand to advocate for change, it's because she's one of the best, and at one time, the best professional women's soccer player in the world. 

And that goes the same if you look in the NBA, and a guy like LeBron James, who is very active in this space. He's the best. And so when you perform that well on the court or on the field, you have that respect and you have that availability to say what you want, more so than players that are on the lower end of that. And so I think that's where the conversation really gets interesting. 

Because it's who can say what and why are they allowed to say those things? But all in all, players have been doing a fantastic job. But you're right. There is a balance because if you aren't already established as an athlete, you're risking something by speaking up. 

TED GILMAN: I really am intrigued by this sort of contrast. Susie, you mentioned Billie Jean King, who is a legend in her sport. But it's a sport with an individual in the spotlight. And what the Australian team did is to get a whole team to do this. And when I've talked to pro athletes-- for example, I've talked to a couple of NFL players who said, if you walk into an NFL locker room and ask questions about these big issues, you will see that many locker rooms are a microcosm of political perspectives and the spectrum across which people think about these issues. 

So the fact that they're able to get a team unified to do this is no small accomplishment. And I wonder if this is something that is just a complete outlier. Have you ever seen teams that could have done this but just didn't? Or should we expect more of this sort of behavior? What do you think? 

JUSTIN MORROW: It's a great question. From my personal experience, I've had the opportunity to work with players across leagues, across teams, in sports on common issues. And so I've seen it happen before. And you are expressing it the right way. It is very powerful and unique. But you're also right in that every locker room could be divided. And in our sport, which is so international, you see such a wide range of representation, from all over the globe and different political views and cultural views and opinions. 

And so it is really special what they were able to do, and really powerful because they did it together. That, along with the conversation that we were just having about the balance that professional athletes need to toe the line in terms of speaking up because of repercussions. I think that's protected when you speak up in groups. 

TED GILMAN: Great point. Another question that I wanted to raise is the issue of what's called sports washing. And sports washing has been used-- or sports laundering, depending on your preference-- has been used to describe how hosting a major sports event can work as a massive PR campaign to burnish or support or improve a country's reputation and distract the public from its human rights abuses. 

This is not a new phenomenon. We can look at countless World Cups and Olympic games that have done this. What do you think about sports washing and countries using sports to improve their international status or standing or image? 

SUSIE PETRUCCELLI: I think, obviously, I mean, we're seeing it happening in Saudi Arabia right now in a pretty unprecedented level. 

TED GILMAN: Can you say more? 

SUSIE PETRUCCELLI: From my understanding, Saudi Arabia is-- their sports minister is investing heavily in all different sports. They're using their royal funds for-- they're buying Formula 1. They're buying golf. They're just spending a ton of money to try to bring a lot of huge world spectacles to Saudi Arabia. 

And I guess I'm a little naive. But I do think part of it is that they genuinely do love sport. But I also agree that there's definitely an element of it that's they're trying to raise the profile of the country in the world's eyes. 

TED GILMAN: How do you feel about that? 

SUSIE PETRUCCELLI: I find it super fascinating and actually educational in a way. First of all, it to me, validates the point that everyone understands, or at least huge amounts of people in the world recognize the power of sports to influence people. I do worry that people who are easily influenced are seeing the facade of what's going on, and the stories about the injustices that are going on are not getting shared widely enough. 

I think that's changed a little bit with the growth of-- and now the expanse of social media. These stories are getting out. I think it's harder to hide social justice issues, which I think is a good thing. But I agree it's a huge issue. But I think also those big world sports events have also done a lot of good, particularly for women's sports, in terms of galvanizing competition between let's say Russia and the US. 

And both countries all of a sudden start investing heavily in women's sports. Because they don't want to lose to Russia. The US doesn't want to lose to Russia in any sport. And Russia doesn't want to lose to the US in any sport. So it's complicated. There's pros and cons to these huge sporting events. 

ISABEL JIJON: I definitely agree with what Susie was saying that it is this very contradictory and very dangerous phenomenon. Because there are so many-- I want to call them primal-- emotions tied to sport. Sport is connected to people's individual and family and community identities. It's what's binding you to friends and family members. It connects you to memories of your grandparents or uncles or local community in many ways. 

It's a source of frustration, of course, but mostly of joy. And I think that that's why people are so forgiving of these kinds of efforts. Because you don't really want to pay attention to human rights abuses or to corruption or to issues like this because you have all of this emotional stake in a team, in a sport, in a player. And that makes it difficult to recognize sports washing or to address it. 

But at the same time, I also completely agree with Susie that it's never complete. And sport washing efforts can backfire. So the most famous example that I can think of is the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. A military dictatorship organized the World Cup with the explicit goal of improving the international profile of Argentina. 

And what this did is that it brought a lot of international attention and journalists to the country, and they started talking to local activists, who were denouncing the military dictatorship and talking about how they were disappearing and killing people. And it actually improved the standing of many of the local social movements, like the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. And so this very much shows how it is always complicated, and it's never simple. 

And obviously, that doesn't mean it's OK that sports washing is happening because it's bringing attention to these issues. But I do think that it can backfire. And hopefully, it'll encourage us all to pay more attention to these countries as they're trying to bring more attention onto themselves. I don't know if that last part makes sense. 

JUSTIN MORROW: It makes total sense to me. And I think that you guys put that so well. I'm fascinated by it because of this irony and the broader reflection in what's going on in society. You have the teams like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain that do so well in their leagues. And all of their competitors complain. They complain about it and say, oh, the things that they win, they have an asterisk next to it because of the money. 

But they let it happen. And they all let it happen because they know that with the profile that comes along with the investment of that money that the clubs-- their competitors make money off of it as well, and the broadening of the leagues that they're in. And so for me, everyone is a little bit complicit. But it's really interesting to see how it's working. 

But also, Susie mentioned something that was really important. It's an opportunity to learn and have conversations about it. And I'll speak specifically from where I'm standing at in North America. I'm in Toronto. I'm in Canada. But my main work is in North America. And it gives people over here an opportunity to learn about these oil-backed states and what they're doing. 

What they're doing good, what they're doing bad, learn about the history. And it just takes them out of what and geographically where they're at this time and place. So for me, it's really fascinating. 

TED GILMAN: That's really helpful collective perspective. And I think it's fascinating to see the causal arrow between international image and sports can go either way. Sports can cause countries to look better or worse. And countries do take a certain amount of risk when they agree to host one of these big major events. And they just are going to put it out there. 

And they may not know what the final assessment or evaluation of their performance is going to be. Justin, I want to come back to you. You founded Black Players for Change in the wake of George Floyd's murder. And if you could describe some of the injustices that Black players here in North America, as you said, but also perhaps abroad, continue to face, I would really appreciate that. And if you want to start with your personal story, that would be great. 

JUSTIN MORROW: For me, growing up in North America, playing this sport, at the time, it wasn't a sport that was played by many Black people, or people of color for that matter. And that's since changed. It's grown bit. But there's still this overall sense and environment that is not conducive to Black people. And we feel that in a lot of ways. Everyone has stories about it. 

For me, it came through a lot of microaggressions and even in the form of death threats when I was in high school and starting to succeed as a student athlete and being in the public, being in city newspapers. So experiencing that made me feel that I wanted to use my platform, if I ever did make it to be a professional athlete, for good. I tried to do that the best I could while I was playing. 

And towards the end of my career, after I'd had a very good career, George Floyd was murdered. And the Black players in the league came together and decided that they wanted to do something to represent themselves and to fight for the players that were going to come after them. And so they created this organization, which is now a full non-profit and liaisons with the league on these issues. But it was just an incredible time for me and something that has changed my life forever. 

Because, as you mentioned, Ted, doing this along with other players. And we all know that professional sports is about competing. You show up, practice. You fight day in, day out to get better. And on game days, it's about beating your opponent. But to work together off the field in one common direction has been really special. We're doing our best and working with the league to make a better environment for Black players and Black coaches and Black executives. And that's something that continues to this day. 

TED GILMAN: Would you say a little bit more about some of the accomplishments that Black Players for Change has managed so far, and perhaps also talk about what directions you hope to go in moving forward? 

JUSTIN MORROW: Yeah. A lot of the fallout that we've seen from 2020 is like these whole departments focused around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And that's no different in Major League Soccer. Shortly after we organized, we really pushed the league to hire a head of diversity, equity, inclusion, which they did early in 2021. From that, we've just done this incredible growth in relationship between the players and the league, the ability to talk about these issues and to work on them behind the scenes. 

We also have a committee where we work with team governors, executives, current players, former players. And we work on these issues and form strategies around it. So that has been a really great start. We've also implemented some hiring practices, which have only been in place about a year now. So we're starting to see the fruits of that. 

TED GILMAN: Can you say more about the hiring practices you were able to change? 

JUSTIN MORROW: So we implemented our version of the Rooney Rule in Major League Soccer. It's called the Diversity Hiring Policy. That went into effect for the first time this February of this calendar year. 

And so throughout the sporting landscape in Major League Soccer, it doesn't matter which level, if there's a position open-- so we're talking head coach, assistant coach, Academy coaches, trainers, video analysis, anything that has to do with the sporting side-- in the final interview pool, there has to be two minority candidates. And one of those minority candidates has to be Black. And so with that, we've seen an increase of interviews. 

We saw a Black coach get hired this year. And right now, we are sitting at three Black coaches in the league. And so that's a-- believe it or not-- an uptick. And so it's something that we're continuing to work on. And MLS as a whole is expanding. They've created a whole other league underneath the first team level, which would be MLS Next Pro. 

They went through their first professional year this year, which means more opportunities for coaches and more opportunities for minority coaches. So on the hiring side, that's what's happened. And in this next calendar year, that's going to filter over to the business side as well. So something new for the league and definitely a work in progress and something that we're proud of. 

TED GILMAN: That's terrific. Wow. 

JUSTIN MORROW: But there's a lot more to come. And the most important thing is that we have this seat in this ability to do so. And I think it highlights the ways that players are able to act behind the scenes. Because even in our conversation today, up until now, we've been talking about the public leverage that players have. But professional players have power behind the scenes, too, and this ability to walk into rooms that a lot of people can't walk into and get meetings with people. And Black Players for Change has just been a wonderful example of that. 

Because we've taken meetings with all different types of corporate sponsors and people that have been on our side, all these allies. And now we're in the room with team governors, who ultimately hold the most power, not only in our sports, but in their own industries because they're all business titans. So being able to pull and push these different buttons has been really exciting and something that I think is going to help change the landscape of the sport for decades to come. 

TED GILMAN: Thanks. It's really interesting to hear you say that. And the story you offer is-- the narrative you offer is an example of individuals sharing a belief, and then going out and making change and trying to do something about it. And I think that that's a really powerful example that we just don't have enough of right now. And I would like to work and pursue that thread a little bit in this conversation. 

Susie, you've had to some degree a similar experience with your journey and some of the hard facts and discrepancies in pay and treatment of women and men in sports. And perhaps you would like to share a little bit of your own experience. 

SUSIE PETRUCCELLI: Yeah, I would love to. And just quickly first, I wanted to follow up on what Justin was saying, and say, I think one of the things he's talking about and what we see in women's sports, too, is, we need a seat at the table. We need representation at all levels of leadership in these leagues and the federations. 

And I think that's what Justin has so brilliantly done is he's created this organization this collective that now has a seat at the table. And I think it's just absolutely amazing what his work is doing. So my story is feels a little bit like Justin's, where I grew up in a sports family. And I just assumed since when I was three, four, or five years old, I just assumed that women-- I didn't understand that there was women's sports and men's sports. 

I thought sports was sports. And I didn't understand that the timeline of women's sports was so drastically different than the timeline of men's sports. I wanted to be like my brother. I wanted to be like my dad and my grandfather who all played football and baseball. And I was a crazy little tomboy, and I always wanted to be dirty and covered in mud. 

And I wasn't allowed to play football. I wasn't allowed to try out for football. And I wasn't allowed to try out for baseball. And it was heartbreaking. But that luckily for me, that heartbreak didn't last very long. Because our town just started allowing girls to play soccer, just barely. I mean, I'm dating myself now. So this is the mid '70s. And I didn't understand how lucky I was and what a privilege that was until so many years later, not until I was already at Harvard playing soccer. 

And I finally heard about this law called Title IX. And first time I heard about it, I was like, oh, that probably doesn't apply to me. Over time, I sort of finally woke up to the idea that this law, Title IX, that was passed just two years before I was born, shaped my life in terms of my academic accomplishments and my access to sports. And the two are so closely tied together in my case. 

When my work started was when I started to realize that this law that was very embattled-- and it still over the years has been overturned and reaffirmed. It's been very hard to enforce. And 50 years later now, we're still not at total compliance and total equality in terms of Title IX. 

And so for me, it was learning that there was this law that gave me these opportunities that the previous generation-- people just 10 years older than me-- didn't have. And then so what about girls outside the United States? Do they have a law? I remember the moment, thinking in my head, like this panic almost, so, wait. So we had this law that's very fragile right that protects our access to education and sports. 

So what about girls out-- I get chills, actually, just thinking about it-- what about girls outside of the United States. Tell me they have a law like Title IX that protects their access. And I get emotional just thinking about it. They don't. So it just came from a very emotional place for me. And it really came down to the fact that I knew the joy that sports brought me. 

And obviously then, it's about physical health and physical strength and confidence and camaraderie and learning to be a teammate and all these amazing things that we get from sports. But to me, it was just really fundamentally about, every girl needs that opportunity to feel that joy. And so that's where it came from for me. I was fighting for girls everywhere to be able to experience that same joy that I was so privileged to have my whole life. 

So that's really where my work started. And I've been lucky to start meeting a ton of amazing people who are working at the same thing from all these different angles and all these creative ways. And it's just been the most amazing last 15 years, meeting all these people, and all of us starting to build a real community around growing access for girls around the world. 

And now, obviously, first working towards equity. And then at least here in the United States, in a lot of places now, we've reached a place of equity in a lot of ways. So now the push moves on to full equality. And then now for me, particularly in my case, since I was on the heels of the US Women's National team players, they've now won equal pay, which is so amazing and so fantastic and was so hard. 

And so now for me, the next step and the reason why I'm participating in the fellowship, is to try to evaluate and figure out some plans and some ways to present to FIFA to try to at least stop the growth of the gender prize money gap in the two World Cups, that's now at $400 million and growing. So the goal is to have them commit to at least stopping the growth of the gap. And then the next step would be presenting them with a feasible plan or two that they can choose from that would then sort of close the gap within a certain manageable number of years. 

TED GILMAN: Fascinating. Just a quick follow up. Have you found the same degree of access that Justin mentioned regarding the issue of women in sports and equity of treatment? Have you been able to get the meetings that you seek and have people convene around the issues that matter to you in this way? 

SUSIE PETRUCCELLI: To a certain level, yes. The women's soccer sports world is very tight and very passionate. And we do all work together across sports, not just in soccer. I think now the turn of events that happened with Carlos Cordeiro, the former President of US Soccer, being forced to step down, and Cindy Parlow Cone, who was on the '99 World Cup winning team, her getting elevated from vice president to president of US Soccer was an enormous, enormous step forward for us. 

And so now it's been easier to have those conversations in a real way. And I have found-- which has been so amazing just since we started talking about the fellowship-- that there are some amazing, amazing, amazing allies within FIFA, who believe that this is the right thing to do and that this is a direction that world soccer is going. So I feel like we're on the cusp of getting at the FIFA level. And I am hopeful they're going to be open to talking about it. 

TED GILMAN: Isabel, I imagine you have some thoughts on this topic as well. 

ISABEL JIJON: As I was saying, I really enjoy hearing both Susie and Justin's stories because it hearkens to one thing that came up again a lot in my class, which I'm still referencing, which is that the students always talk about what makes an effective advocate for an issue, especially what makes certain athletes more effective advocating for issues than others. And there is this sense of, there is an authenticity to some athlete activists that not all athletes can have. 

And that ties to their own personal experience, their own relationship to the cause that they're fighting for. We had this very interesting discussion about Simone Biles choosing to prioritize her mental health over her sport. And a lot of the students talked about why this was so powerful for them. And it was because it clearly came from her lived experience. 

And I think that that's why both of your stories are so powerful as well because you're talking about what it was like growing up and what was it like experiencing these things firsthand. I think that's one of the reasons why you've both been effective at being part of these conversations and contributing to positive change. 

TED GILMAN: Great point about Simone Biles. And the three dimensionality, it makes people more real when you hear about their struggles alongside their triumphs. And it makes people more relatable. And I was thinking of Naomi Osaka, the tennis player, who has also shared a fair amount of the challenges of her training regimen and her travel and how that takes a toll on her as a human being, regardless of whether she's playing tennis or doing anything else. 

Being able to see more into the lives of high-level athletes, high-performing athletes, is something that the sports watching public I think would really like to see more of. So an underlying theme of this conversation is social change. And here at a University like Harvard, we want to study social change. But we also would hope that our research and our conversations would somehow help the world to change and improve in a positive direction. 

How does your time here, how do you hope your time here moves towards positive social change? You could be doing a lot of different things right now rather than spending your time at Harvard studying the topics you are. But instead you're here. Please say a little bit more about what's the connection between the University and social change in your area? 

SUSIE PETRUCCELLI: I'll go ahead and start. So for me, I had the incredible privilege and luck to be able to play here as an undergrad in the '90s. And so my connection and my appreciation for Harvard and the incredible minds at Harvard and the incredibly inspiring people that are at Harvard started back then. I'm very, very excited to have access to people like Claudia Goldin, the economics professor who is one of the preeminent minds on the gender wage gap in the United States. 

Ted, you introduced me to her. And now we've actually met in person. And she's literally been invaluable to me in terms of my research. And so its access to people like that who have been studying this for decades. It's going to accelerate my work. 

TED GILMAN: Before we move on, Susie, I want to ask you about the connection between women's sports and leadership roles for women. Have you looked into that association at all? 

SUSIE PETRUCCELLI: There's an obvious connection between women who have played sports, girls who have played sports, and women who are in c-suite roles and leadership positions. There was originally a study by Ernst and Young. And then the Women's Sports Foundation followed up with more research on it. 

And basically, what they found out was that 94% of women in c-suite roles right now played organized sports at some level in their life. 52% played college sports. So there's a direct link between the skills that girls are learning through sports, and that's translating to success in business. It's undeniable. And I think it's really one of the reasons why it's so important to value the access for girls everywhere for sports. 

It's not just about the health and physical benefits and the mental health benefits, which it is. But it also leads to them being great leaders. And another example from a political side of things is, Maura Healey was just elected governor of Massachusetts, and she was a Harvard basketball player. She graduated in '92. 

So we're seeing women-- we're seeing the effects of Title IX in terms of more women getting into higher education and also learning these skills on the field and in team situations that I think are benefiting women. And it's trickling down to the younger generations. So it's just been so incredible. And it's so important to keep it going. 

TED GILMAN: Great. Justin, how has your fellowship been useful to your activist role? 

JUSTIN MORROW: For me, the genesis for my studies was based around my time as executive director of Black Players for Change. We were just being connected with so many people across the sporting landscape at this unbelievable pace. Every day I was talking to somebody new, every week learning about a new organization that was doing incredible work, and linking with professional players in all different sports. 

I really started to feel confused. I was like, OK, we are all doing so much work. There's so much happening in this space. I really want to know how we're measuring it and what is working and what's not working. So that was the genesis for my studies and what my research is based around, while at the same time, knowing that I myself need to be more educated. 

I was a finance major undergrad. And even though I was living my life as a leader in this issue and in this conversation, I had this business background. So I said, OK, I want to learn more about the history of athlete activism, for sure, but also about the successes and failures of other social movements. And so a lot of my classes that I've been taking and the professors that I've been linking up with have had to do with past social movements. 

Studied the Civil Rights movement. Studied the farm labor union and the movement out in California. And just understanding the strategies that they used, the tactics, how they came to decisions, when they decided to pivot, adapt, all of these different things will make me a better leader, and take that back into what we're doing today so that we can operationalize some of these things. 

Ted, you started off with social change. Social change can look like a lot of different things. But we need to see the wins. And how do you get those wins comes through strategy. It's not just a feel good all the time. And I think a lot of what we do out there, a lot of programs, certainly a lot of statements, it's all to feel good. Well, we need to know that things are working and things are actually changing in the meantime. 

TED GILMAN: Great. Thank you. And I would flip this around and say, from an academic perspective, we learn as much from the failed experiments and from the failed cases. So looking at less successful efforts to change the world also can be helpful as we look for new ways to make the world a better place. So thank you for weighing in on a very social sciencey tone. Isabel, I would love to hear from you about social change and social movements and what you're seeing in the world of sports. 

ISABEL JIJON: I think that what we've been talking a lot about here is how do we help athletes and people involved in the world of sport to kind of translate those achievements from that sphere into social achievements, into social change? And I think that a lot of it has to do with what Justin was saying and what Susie was saying, understanding these situations first. So understanding where people are coming from, what are their interests? What does achievement and success look like for different communities? 

And I think that looking at, as you were saying before, failed or successful cases allow us to think about, what do we even define as success in these cases? So I think that what's been really inspiring, of what the women's soccer team has been doing for instance, is that for them, they have a very clear goal and they achieved it-- which was pay equity. It was the sense of, how is it that we are going to achieve these goals and work together to create a movement and not just a message and not just an idea that doesn't necessarily have a real-world impact? 

And I think that there are many different ways of approaching that question. And there are no easy answers. But what is exciting is how many people are talking about this and how the idea that we should keep the politics out of sport is an increasingly ludicrous idea, that people recognize is just not how sports works, and not even how it should work, that we should be thinking about these issues in the context of sport. 

TED GILMAN: This is a really intriguing commonality between the three of you. Isabel, you're teaching this class of college students. And Susie and Justin, you both have experience as students, of course, but also as high performing athletes. Students, and university students in particular, have a long history of being at the forefront of social movements and social change. 

I'm thinking about whether it's the anti-war movement in the 1960s and the role that students played. But also, we can go around the world and see students in Western Europe protesting for environmental change. And even students in China in past social movements have had a really strong role. From your perspective now, what could university students do to further the goals that you are talking about? And what do university students have to offer the world from your perspective? 

JUSTIN MORROW: Isabel, I feel like you've got to kick us off on this one. 

ISABEL JIJON: I'm thinking. It's such a big question. 

TED GILMAN: I'm sorry. It's a little bit of a-- This may or may not be included. I'm throwing it out there. 

ISABEL JIJON: I think you're absolutely right that there is something about students. The beauty of a university is that it is a space where we can take the time to actually question what we normally take for granted, and give ourselves that space to think about what the world is actually like and how we would like the world to be. 

And so I think that's why it's no coincidence that students are at the forefront of so many social movements. Because students are in this turning point in their personal lives, but also in this kind of creative hub, by living with other students who come from different backgrounds and who are interested in different things. 

JUSTIN MORROW: Yeah, I was going to I was going to echo those sentiments in the form of the conversation that we had earlier that not all students are created equal. They come from different backgrounds. And then there's the difference between an undergrad student and a grad student and the different pathways that we have there and the lived life experience. And I think the thing about the undergrads is there's just this freshness. So everything to them is theories, and they feel really strongly about it. 

But if we put it in political terms-- and let's just say liberal versus conservative-- if you've never had to work in a team with someone from opposite views of you, guess what? Just pounding them with your theories and your beliefs is not going to work. So it's amazing the energy that they bring to it. And they're just starting in so many ways. They're just starting to live that life that we're talking about, and live the conversations that we're having in the classroom. And I think that's really the special part about it. 

TED GILMAN: One of the things that I hope for-- and I'm really grateful to meet all of you and to have the opportunity to talk about the way sports and society are inextricably linked and affect each other-- but one of the things I really hope is that these topics and these issues can be broadly addressed at universities all over the place. 

And I feel like Harvard is just one school among hundreds and hundreds of universities here at which these issues and the connection between sport and social change could be far more prominently featured, and probably should be more prominently featured. And I hope that this is just one example in a rising tide of people who are interested in this. So thank you all for chatting about this. 

JUSTIN MORROW: No, thank you. It's been great. 


JUSTIN MORROW: Thanks. Thank you, Ted. 

TED GILMAN: That wraps up our discussion today. You can read more about our scholar's work on the Epicenter website. Many thanks to our listeners. If you value our conversation, please take a moment to click the Subscribe button on your favorite listening platform. This is Ted Gilman signing off from the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, a research center at Harvard University that promotes interdisciplinary conversations just like this one.