There’s a change at ESPN. The sports giant has launched a new citizenship strategy focused on using the power of sports for social good, and Connecticut is very much a part of the strategy. The launch includes a new name change (from Corporate Outreach to Corporate Citizenship), as well as a new website that highlights ESPN’s commitment to the community, www.ESPN.com/Citizenship, Ed Durso, ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Administration, in explaining the overall strategy, said ESPN has “a tremendous legacy of giving and as our brand and reach have grown, so too has our commitment to the community. We are now taking a more strategic approach that focuses on using sports to transform lives and uplift communities.”
Durso explained that ESPN will focus in five key areas:
- Access to Sports
- Leadership Through Sports
- The V Foundation
- Good Neighbor grants
He noted that “ESPN can offer meaningful help to many in need. For example, it may be surprising to some, but youth sports participation in the U.S. has been on the decline since 2008. The decline is due to many factors and the problem is especially prevalent in underserved communities.
This is worrisome because sports is so important to development.”
“Studies show that kids who are physically active have higher test scores, are more likely to go to college, and smoke and drink less,” he added. ”Sports can also help build life skills, including enhancing self-esteem, unifying teams and driving social inclusion. By driving support to entities enhancing access to sports, we can help.”
Earlier this year, ESPN announced it would team up with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) to award grants to seven local park and recreation departments in the U.S. that improve and expand their youth sports programs, especially in underserved communities. The $150,000 grant would be targeted to purchase needed equipment, make improvements in facilities and help local parks expand their programs to give more children the opportunity to participate in community-based sports.
The communities receiving grants included Hartford, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Coral Gables, New York City and Austin. In Hartford, the parks department set out to introduce 1,000 kids, ages 3-6 years, to the sport of soccer throughout the winter at inside recreation centers, with the objective of launching the "Litter Soccer Stars" league this spring, according to ESPN.
“We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to play sports and be able to take advantage of its many benefits. ESPN is working with nonprofits to develop sports curriculum, distribute sports equipment and create safe spaces to play sports. We’re also finding ways to foster physical development, leadership and life skills through sports. We’re working with others who share this vision, and together hope to make sports more accessible, especially to those in underserved communities,” Durso explained.
A 2014 study from the University of Kansas suggests that if students are given a compelling reason to come to school—even if that reason has nothing to do with academics – they will. University of Kansas’s Angela Lumpkin and Rebecca Achen analyzed high-school testing, graduation, and attendance data and found that Kansas’s student athletes go to school more often than non-athletes. They also have higher graduation rates: 98 percent of athletes in Kansas’s class of 2012 graduated, compared with 90 percent of non-athletes.
An article published in The Atlantic pointed out “The higher graduation rates could be explained away by the theory that teachers have lower standards for athletes—that they’re willing to let athletes pass without doing all the work. But state test data challenges that theory: Athletes also score higher on the Kansas state assessments than non-athletes, in all subject areas. They are clearly learning something in their classes.”
ESPN has also included 32 colleges and universities across the country in a new initiative with the legendary Tribeca Film Institute for budding filmmakers. Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University, University of Hartford, and Connecticut College are among the eligible institutions. The TFI/ESPN Future Filmmaker Prize will award three graduate level media makers devoted to creating short-form documentaries highlighting the exceptionally creative work of an athletic community or organization that is working towards solving social issues in the United States or around the world. Submissions opened May 5 and close July 5.
The prize aims to support the next generation of filmmakers in producing creative, story-driven films that highlight issues of social importance through the lens of sports, athletics and or competition with a $25,000 production grant.
Recipients will also receive professional guidance and mentorship from TFI staff and select media professionals. Along with the monetary grant, the three filmmaking teams will participate in a two-day workshop in the fall with activities tailored to their needs and culminating with an industry showcase to both celebrate their work and introduce them to the filmmaking community at large.
The workshop will include pitch training, story structure lectures, footage critiques, master classes led by industry leaders and one-on-one meetings with industry professionals and nonprofit athletic institutions. Also, each grantee will be paired with a current or former Tribeca Film Fellow. They will work closely together throughout all aspects of the filmmaking process from production to editing.