A Welcome Message from our FOUNDER
First, I would like to welcome you to Athleaders 360°! As I reflect on all the time put into developing Athleaders 360°, I felt that it was necessary to let you in on why I felt it was important to found the organization. Why Athleaders 360°? I watch a lot of sports media and there isn’t a day that goes by that some athlete isn’t getting in trouble. And I went from “what is wrong with these kids” to actually feeling pretty bad for them. Where else do we expect people this young to be leaders and to do so without any kind of training?
Hear me out: LeBron graced the cover of every major sports magazine at the age of seventeen. Tebow had the third highest jersey sales when he was only nineteen. Michael Phelps became a household name when he was only fifteen. In any other setting, we would see these athletes as teenagers--babies really--trying to figure out adolescence. But, in the world of sports they are seen as role models. Their good decisions are held up for us to celebrate and their bad decisions are more heavily scrutinized. Can you imagine that pressure?
And it’s not just professional athletes who are held to this standard. You can find athletic “stars” in every community. While they are held up as examples, they have not actually been prepared to lead.
And I get this pressure on a personal level. People from back home remember that I was a star athlete in high school who spent a day in jail after having a fight with a teammate at a basketball practice. I was charged and convicted of assault and dealt with the embarrassment of going from being in the newspaper for being an All-Region quarterback one month, to being in there with a mugshot the next. And sure this speaks to a tendency for our society to over punish black boys, but it also made me wonder what the outcome would have been if I had a different set of tools for handling and managing conflict. Or if I had a different idea of what it means to be a man-one that wasn’t rooted in violence.
Athleaders 360° was designed for athletes like me who have the pressure of being leaders without the training. These kids are seeing the same news stories that we see. They don’t want to be out here doing the dumb stuff that gets so many athletes in trouble, but all we’ve been doing is shaking our heads and/or calling them stupid (remember Jameis Winston and those crab legs). But, who’s going to help them? The culture and expectations of “being woke” have changed drastically from when we all came up. However, we have not equipped these kids that we mark as leaders with how to function, let alone lead, in this new environment. And they are crying for help. (I know because when I told the kids I train I was designing this program, they wanted it right then and there). Yet, each year we send 128,000 young men to play collegiate sports without the skills necessary to lead in this new world.
Look, there are a lot of great coaches, teachers, and parents working with these young people and doing their best to make them better men. But at the end of the day, a coach's primary responsibility is to ensure players understand their sports, teachers are rightfully focused on their curriculums, and parents ensure, above all else, that their kids are being nurtured. We need something that primarily focuses on an athlete's leadership so that together there is a holistic development. (Hence the 360°).
While I originally thought about designing the program for all athletes, I ultimately decided that the heart of this program will be for boys, because in all honesty, we’re the problem. Sure, there are occasional women athletes that do dumb stuff, but by and large, it’s the boys out here acting up. And there are far too many programs aimed at Black boys that do not see value in the things they love. Furthermore, as a culture, we give these kids mixed messages around sports. On the one hand, we push them into sports and on the other we tell them they need a Plan B and they should pick something more stable, like engineering. But the thing is, they really love sports. So, I believe we should meet them where they are and use their love of sports to help them become the kind of men they want to be.
I love sports and see the potential for how they can be used to bring people together, teach people new skills, and develop the next generation of leaders. I’m excited for the work that Athleaders 360° will do and I’m happy to know that so many of you are behind us!
Founder and Executive Director