The Untapped Potential of Sports Fans

This is a big moment for sports. 2015 saw monumental breakthroughs in sports as a catalyst for social change. Historically, sports have been effective at raising awareness of underexposed issues, sparking important conversations, and shifting public perception. We saw this come to life in a whole new way in 2015 with professional and collegiate sports taking a stand on some of our countrys most pressing issues, those same issues that teams have shied away from in the past, despite being in a credible position to create change.

When racial tensions escalated on the campus of the University of Missouri and the administration failed to take action, student groups protested for President Tim Wolfe to resign. After two months of no results despite clear instances of racism on campus, athletes of color on the Missouri football team took a stand. They refused to play until their voices were heard. 36 hours later President Wolfe stepped down.

Professional sports teams and leagues also stepped up their activism game in 2015. On Christmas day, the NBA released a series of provocative ads in partnership with Everytown for Gun Safety, a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence. While Everytown advocates for common sense gun laws, the issue of guns in the US is still a highly charged one, mucky waters in which most sports leagues would never dare tread, until now.

What happened at the University of Missouri and with the NBA harnessed the power that sports teams and leagues have long understood they possess: the ability to bring immediate and widespread awareness to an issue. They have effectively created high intensity, important moments around major issues. But whats next? How can sports ensure that these moments lead to real progress?

At Purpose, our experiences supporting people-powered social movements around big issues like international LGBT rights, the crisis in Syria, and climate change have helped us understand what enables movements to succeed. A critical component is the ability to organize a large community, reach them during moments inspiration, and build their long-term engagement. Fans bring exactly these elements to sports. They are the missing ingredient that could take moments of influence and attention created by sports and turn them into transformative movements for change.

A Love Thats Here To Stay

Fans make up some of the largest, most engaged communities on earth. What sports instills in fans even goes beyond engagement — its a passionate and unwavering love that often lasts a lifetime. This emotionally-charged attention is an invaluable asset that movement builders work tirelessly to cultivate. Sports has the ideal framework for building social movements: the deep engagement of a large group of people, sustained over a long period of time. This facet of fan engagement allows sports to be effective on issues where shifting a generational perspective and inspiring a longer-term commitment to action is essential to achieving change, such as LGBT rights or racial justice.

Nothing is Impossible

Being a sports fan can be a transcendent experience. Adidas captured this feeling with their Impossible is Nothing ads. Sports is the one place where people escape the frustrating, and too often disappointing, rules of everyday life. In sports, the underdog can win. Its a space where even well into adulthood our imaginations can still soar and we can see something we never dreamed we would. On many social issues such as climate change, all actors are underdogs with the odds stacked against them. Pursuing social change requires an individual to believe in progress when seemingly none has been made. Sports lifts fans into the exact frame of mind needed to believe in the impossible — that, along with their team, they can win more than just games. They can win on big issues, even those that seem like a guaranteed defeat.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Social change often involves people shifting perceptions, challenging or affirming beliefs, and caring about something that might feel distant to their lives. Social influence has shown to be a critical factor when it comes to getting people comfortable enough to take these often intimidating steps. The human brain is actually hard-wired to do this. We imitate others to navigate the many choices we must make on a daily basis, referred to by psychologists as social proof.

Sports creates unparalleled opportunities where so many people gather together and do the exact same thing at the same time. These explosive moments of solidarity and euphoria enable the laws of social influence to take hold in a way that is powerful and unique to sports. For example, fans are not just an average peer to one another. They have a deep bond underpinned by strong commonalities, shared interests (at least one), and an assumption of aligned values. This establishes trust among fans of a given team and thus a higher propensity to imitate, especially around something as intense as action on social issues.

No Ask Too Big

So what does this untapped potential of fans look like when brought to life in the name of social good? Sport Club Recife, one of Brazils biggest soccer clubs, launched an organ donation campaign to help increase access to transplant organs. An inspiring video played before every game in the clubs 35,000-seat stadium asking fans to apply online for a Sport Donor card. The Immortal Fans campaign reduced organ transplant waiting lists in the Brazilian city of Recife to virtually zero in the programs first year and has continued to lead to a significant increase in the number of life-changing transplants according to the BBC.

Immortal Fans showed us how quickly concern for a tough issue and commitment to action can spread amongst sports fans. With the recent splash made by Super Bowl 50, an activists imagination runs wild with possibilities. Its been touted as the most technologically-advanced, philanthropic, and sustainable Super Bowl in history with a halftime show full of political undertones. Imagine what progress we could have sparked if this energy, connectivity, and the 100-plus million television and record digital live streaming viewers plus the over 70,000 fans in stadium were united as an unstoppable force for good?

Rick Telander talks 1985 Bears on Wednesday’s Sports Feed

It was a unique friendship that was describe at length with Jarett during the Chicago Sun Times columnist in his first visit to Sports Feed on Wednesday. The nearly half-hour conversation touched on a number of aspects of Payton and that 1985 team.

To watch Ricks segments with Jarrett on the show, click on the videos above and below.

Apple is hiring engineers to coach Siri about sports

Apple has published four job postings that reveal the companys intent to make its Siri personal digital assistant more capable when it comes to fielding queries about sports. Potentially, that could make Siri a more essential companion for resolving debates at the water cooler.

The job postings, with the job title Siri Software Engineer Sports, are identical. People chosen for the jobs will work at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California.

The Siri team is looking for someone with a combination of strong technical skills, a desire to build exceptional customer features and a deep love of sports, Apple says in the job postings, which have gone live in the past two weeks. Were looking for the right person who can collaborate with other engineers in several technical areas to help build Siris knowledge of all things sports related. You should be able to thrive in a fast-paced environment with rapidly changing priorities, have a thirst for new technology and believe that managing your Fantasy Football team is as important as managing your 401(k).

Artificial intelligence (AI) experience is a requirement for the job, the job postings say.

Working on a product as popular as Siri can be tempting for researchers eager to have an impact in the real world. But in recent years Apple has not published many academic papers describing its artificial intelligence technology, much less shared its AI software with the public under open source licenses, as Baidu, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter have done. That relative lack of openness has made it harder for Apple to recruit AI talent, as Bloomberg has reported.

In the past year Apple has acquired artificial intelligence companies Emotient, Perceptio, and VocalIQ. Siri itself arrived at Apple as a result of the 2010 Siri acquisition.

That doesnt mean Apple has completely given up on hiring people well versed in AI one by one, though. In this case, Apple is also looking for people with domain-specific knowledge.

In order to be qualified for the new Siri jobs, candidates must have an encyclopedic knowledge of sports and wish that Siri did as well. The job posts also mention that these people will integrate live service providers, which could result in more informational responses from Siri. Currently Siri pulls sports knowledge from sources such as Yahoo, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association. When Siri doesnt know the answer to a question, shell serve up a few Bing search results and Bing search query suggestions, which dont always help right away. (Dont ask about boxing, cricket, golf, MMA, NASCAR, or tennis.)

Apple has gradually given Siri more sports proficiency since she became part of iOS in 2011. Starting in iOS 6, she could offer up standings, schedules, and player statistics. With the arrival of iOS 7, Siri could identify her favorite teams. And iOS 9 gave Siri the ability to provide scores, schedules, and websites in response to the mere mention of a team.

The sports category of the Siri page on Apples website currently shows off three example questions that are marked as new, including Who won the NBA Finals? and Whos the quarterback for Dallas? The use of the past tense in the first question and the lack of the team name only the name of the city, which has two major sports teams other than the Cowboys in the second question demonstrate the evolution of the natural language processing software working behind the scenes in Siri.

Apple has improved the visual presentation of sports information in Siri over the years, too. Additions include team logos and player head shots.

Looking beyond sports, Apple has previously published job openings for Siri software engineers in other categories, like music and HomeKit.

But the new job postings prove that Apple executives believe Siri could definitely be more of a sports nut.

Saudi Arabian Women’s Sports Break Stereotypes

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Women athletes in Saudi Arabia say sports are helping to break down traditions that crush the voices of many women.

In the city of Jeddah, a group of basketball players is urging women and girls to get out of their homes and become active in public life. The groups members say they can do this by connecting sports to health issues.

All of the players are women.

Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the Middle East. In many ways, Saudi Arabia is as modern as any place on earth in terms of public health services, transportation and other infrastructure.

But activists say the country has a long way to go in terms of women#39;s rights. They say by persuading women and girls to play sports, they are working in support of good health. The activists say they also are breaking down the image of Saudi women as being silent members of their society.

The Jeddah United womens team was in Malaysia recently for a game. Officials say that by playing internationally, the Saudi women improve their understanding of the world and the nations they visit.

Lina Almaeena heads the Jeddah United Sports Company.

We played in the United States, Malaysia, in Jordan and the UAE. as well as Riyadh and other cities in Saudi Arabia. So, we do that to promote sports locally and internationally to try to change stereotypes and show a different segment in Saudi Arabia.

At an event in Jeddeh for disabled boys and girls, female basketball players say womens sports are increasingly popular at home. Men do not attend games. The players wear head coverings and white uniforms that extend over their arms and legs.

Player Nour Gary says resisting commonly accepted ideas in Saudi Arabia requires pushing against limits, without breaking them.

It is not even against the law or against the religion. It is just people having their own beliefs and trying to close it on other people. So, yes, being open towards sports, they have more flexibility towards other things.

Players say women#39;s rights in Saudi Arabia have come a long way in recent years, but many freedoms, like the right to drive a car, still seem far away.

Last year, women in Saudi Arabia voted for the first time. Twenty women were elected into local office. Like politicians, female athletes say they believe women#39;s#39; sports will eventually be accepted more publicly.

Deborah Parkwood is the head of the Jeddah United basketball team.

We have great athletes here in Saudi Arabia, some of them. The girls, they want to play harder, they want to train harder and they would love to compete for their country internationally.

For now, players say campaigning for women#39;s sports locally is having an immediate result on society. They say it shows mothers the good effects of physical exercise for themselves, and for their children.

Im Marsha James.

Heather Murdock reported on this story for VOANews.com. Marsha James adapted her story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

athlete n. someone who competes in a sport

stereotypes n. a commonly accepted, but sometimes unfair idea that many people have about all members of a group

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Fenway Park transforms into winter sports park for Big Air skiing and snowboarding event

Fenway Park has been the home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912. While baseball is the main focus of the stadium, it has hosted other events such as concerts, football, soccer and even hockey. Now the 104-year-old stadium can add a couple other winter sports to its resume: skiing and snowboarding.

Standing high above the Green Monster, a 140-foot ski jump has been constructed in centerfield, sloping down to home plate, for the Big Air at Fenway US Grand Prix event to be held this Thursday and Friday.

ALEXANDER: Influential Candaele tops State of IE Sports list

MURRIETA — Coley Candaele could be the most influential sports figure in the Inland Empire on sheer numbers alone.

Before stepping down a month ago as Vista Murrieta’s head football coach, he estimated, he’d interacted with “750 to 800 student athletes” annually as football and boys track and field coach.

And when he was teaching biology as well, before leaving the classroom to assume the school’s athletic director duties, the kids he dealt with in the classroom brought that figure to maybe 40 percent of Vista Murrieta’s enrollment. In other words, a lot of examples set, life lessons learned, encouragement handed out.

So in compiling the 2016 version of our annual State of Inland Empire Sports list, which ranks the 10 most influential, important or interesting sports personalities of our region … well, how do you argue with those numbers?

RELATED: See the full Power 10 list

“I’m glad I’m interesting to somebody,” Candaele quipped.

Interesting, yes. Influential? Absolutely.

Given football’s outsized profile in high school athletics, and given the perennial success of a program that is just 13 years old — a CIF title in 2011 and seven straight appearances in section championship games — Candaele, as much as anyone, probably has been the public face of that school since arriving from Carpenteria High in 2003.

Vista Murrieta’s boys track teams have been even more successful, with five CIF championships over the past six seasons and a state championship in 2015, plus one of the nation’s most accomplished high school track athletes on his current roster in Michael Norman.

Yet the genesis for Candaele stepping down from his football duties had less to do with his increased workload and more to do with two prospective track and cross country athletes he will now have the opportunity to coach, his daughters: Peyton Candaele, a freshman this year, and Devyn Candaele, who is now a sixth grader.

“Am I going to be that dad that never got to coach his two daughters?” he asked. “That’s what it was coming down to if I was going to stay in football.

“Freeing myself up to help coach cross country with my daughter (and his wife Karen, the head coach) in the fall, and then to continue doing track, seemed like a no-brainer, at least for six years.”

RELATED: Candaele seeks his own replacement

Candaele is 44 now. By the time Devyn completes her high school eligibility, he’ll have plenty of coaching years left if he so chooses.

High school coaching, of course, is and should be about far more than wins, losses, or players who earn scholarships, though that has become the coin of the realm and the standard by which we judge.

Can you develop great athletes and at the same time develop great people? Why not. Consider Candaele’s no-cut policy for his track teams. Athletes can remove themselves by skipping practices or slacking off, but those willing to put in the effort will get the full experience.

“Track and field really opens up to (both) the elite kid and to the kid who’s never done a sport in his life (and) just wants to be involved,” he said.

” … If you show up every day at practice, we’ll coach you and we’ll treat you just like everybody else, with expectations and requirements to be on the team. What we find is that people, especially in track and field, (want) something quality to do in their lives, so when they go to bed or go home at night they feel like they’ve accomplished something.”

Is that something that applies to all high school athletes?

“It applies to all human beings,” he said. “If at the end of the day you feel like you’ve been beat up on a constant basis, if you feel like what you’ve been doing is not making a difference, I think you’d start questioning your worth. When at the end of the day you feel like you affected somebody, that you got something accomplished, that you helped something better itself, that makes it easy to go to bed at night.”

At heart it’s about inspiring people, whether it’s the elite wide receiver, the middle-of-the-pack distance runner or the kid in biology class struggling with that day’s lesson.

“The vast majority of people you have contact with, I call it sitting on the fence — they can go either way based on the environment you provide,” he said.

“You’re hoping, as a coach or teacher, that you can give them something — one thing, two things — that will help push them to see what they could accomplish in life. That’s our job, to provide that opportunity for kids to want something more than what they have right now.”

Those lessons aren’t always warm and fuzzy.

“He used to be a quarterback in high school, and he was a competitor,” said Su’a Cravens, a Vista Murrieta alum who likely will be an early round pick in the NFL draft this spring out of USC. “I remember when I practiced against him. He’d play scout team quarterback, and if I picked one off he’d be (ticked). He’d get so upset he’d try to throw the ball as hard as he could the next couple of plays.

“I’d pick it off and he’d try to catch me if I’d return it. He never could catch me.”

You tailor your message to your audience.

Candaele has seen high school sports change, particularly the ways in which not only parents but outsiders — club coaches, “advisors” and the like — offer their input, with a college scholarship as their Holy Grail.

“There’s too many voices, too many people saying too many things to a student athlete,” he said. “They (the athletes) feel that they’re being pulled in five different directions, and they don’t know who to listen to.”

He has seen athletes lose their enthusiasm for their sport, and has a particular identification with them. He’d been running from the time he was 6, he said, but “retired” from track and field when he was 10 because he wanted to play other sports.

It turned out well. Candaele was a star in both football and track at Carpenteria High and was a middle distance runner at Cal Poly, as Riverside City College men’s track coach Jim McCullough recalls from firsthand experience.

“He was at SLO when I was at UCLA,” McCullough said. “It was 800 meters and he got me at the end.”

And, McCullough added, “one of the best coaches in California, period, is Coley Candaele.”

Perhaps some of that coaching talent is reflected in his approach toward the kids who lose that enthusiasm, who aren’t sure they want to be Division I athletes as much as those around them want them to.

“You constantly remind the kid that it’s his life or her life,” Candaele said.” They have the choice of what they want to do, or what they want to be good at. It’s up to them.”

Positive influence, indeed.

CONTACT THE WRITER: jalexander@pe.com

On Twitter: twitter.com/Jim_Alexander

Henry Blog: Seminole spirit part of Sports Hall of Fame

The Florida Sports Hall of Fame has one foot in the past as it recognizes the state’s greatest sports figures and events.

The 55-year-old organization also is determined to step into the future with its other foot as it looks to become more alive, mobile and personable.

“By that we mean to take the Hall of Fame across the state of Florida,” said Wayne Hogan, the former Florida State sports information director and interim athletic director who was named executive director of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame last month.

“We don’t want it to be considered a single point in a giant state. We are spending all of our time developing a series of events and outreach (programs) that will take us literally to all four corners – if there are four corners in the state of Florida – over the next 12 months.”

Concussions in high school sports a growing concern

The Kenwood girls soccer coach said one particular incident come to mind when he was involved in a collision during a practice while in college. He believes he blacked out momentarily, but got right back up, never told anyone, continued to practice and played in the next game.

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I just wrote it up to getting my bell rung, Mattern said. That would never happen today. Were much more knowledgeable about detecting concussions and the long-term effects they can have on people.

That greater awareness of concussions has led to in-depth debate in Annapolis as lawmakers are considering a bill during the General Assembly session that would call for the suspension of a public school coach should they knowingly allow a student-athlete to compete with an apparent concussion.

Del. Mark Chang, an Anne Arundel Democrat, sponsored the legislation, which had a hearing late last month in front of the House Ways and Means Committee. Chang said he introduced the bill as a way to better protect students and to build on a 2011 law which bans an athlete from returning to the field without first being medically cleared.

Weve come a long way when it comes with dealing with concussions, but we need to continue to take steps to ensure coaches are taking the proper precautions when it comes to safety, Change said. This bill keeps that discussion going.

Greater understanding

Concussions have garnered more attention in recent years as more studies have linked them to long-term brain damage, depression and other medical issues. Many former NFL players have donated their brains to science after their deaths, which has led to the discovery that they had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head.

Concerns over concussions have led to the early retirement of several well-known athletes in recent years, including former NFL linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Boland, both teammates with the San Francisco 49ers, who retired last year. Also, quarterback Jake Locker, a quarterback with the Tennessee Titans, retired after just four seasons.

There was also former Baltimore Oriole Ryan Freel, who was the first former MLB player diagnosed with CTE after he committed suicide in 2012. Just Monday, professional wrestler Bryan Danielson, known in the WWE as Daniel Bryan, announced that concussions played a role in his decision to retire at just 34 years old.

The debate gained further steam after the recent release of the movie Concussion. The movie, starring Will Smith, tells the true story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, a forensic pathologist who was among the first to expose the long-term brain damage many former NFL players sustained from repeated head injuries.

Knowing what we know now, the issue with concussions may have been brought to light by the NFL, but the initial damage often occurs at the youth and high school levels, Chang said. The pressure for some to win can be great and I want to ensure the health of those on the field.

More than just football

Medical experts stress that concussions are not just a football, boxing or wrestling issue, but one that impacts all sports for both boys and girls, with soccer, lacrosse and field hockey all having their fair share of issues.

Any sport that involves contact deals with the issues of concussions, said Dr. Andrew Tucker, medical director of the MedStar Health Sports Medicine program and head physician for the Ravens. I hope and think that in todays climate instances of coaches playing athletes with concussions is few and far between.

Arundel field hockey coach Carrie Vosburg agrees.

Vosburg said she understands the intent behind the bill, but is not sure it is what is most needed to address the issue at the high school level.

I was surprised to see the bill come up, Vosburg said. Most coaches today err on the side of caution and in most cases the decision to play an athlete is out of our hands and in the hands of our athletic trainer. If they tell us they are out, theyre out.

But not all coaches have that luxury, said Greg Penczek, president of the Maryland Athletic Trainers Association. Penczek, who said his organization will not take a stand on the bill, said only about 61 percent of Maryland high schools have trainers and even many of those that have them dont have them available on a regular basis.

Continued education is really key for coaches and the athletes, Penczek said. We also need to find a way to ensure athletic trainers are more readily available at high school sporting events.

Tucker shared a similar sentiment. He has concerns about coaches facing punishments in instances when they may have inadvertently played an athlete with a concussion.

It can be problematic when you have someone not in the medical field making a medical judgement, Tucker said. There are many cases when symptoms of a concussion manifest itself hours after the initial injury. Plus, I have concerns about the logistics of proving such violations took place.

Long-term impacts

Maryland Football Coaches Association President Joe Bosley said the long-term impact of concussions is one of the biggest issues facing sports today. This became even more apparent to Bosley after the death last year of former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler. An examination of Stablers brain after his death discovered he had CTE.

We have to find a way to get hits to the head out of football, said Bosley, an assistant at St. Pauls who has also coached at Pikesville, Hereford and Westminster. Seeing Stabler had CTE says something because quarterbacks dont typically get hit hard as often as other players. It just shows that even small hits to the head can be prevalent.

Bosley said there needs to be continued innovation in helmet designs that lessen the impact of blows to the head. He also wants to see more done to help educate players and coaches about proper technique and proper practice structure.

There are a lot of young players out there who think theyre invincible, Bosley said. Coaches need to understand that just as much damage can be done in practice as in games. Thats true for all sports.

Mattern, Kenwoods girls soccer coach, agrees. As for Changs bill, Mattern said he has concerns that it could have unintended negative consequences on youth sports.

I appreciate the intent of the bill, but Im not sure its the answer, Mattern said. Especially for young coaches or those that might just decide to step up if there are no other options, a bill like this may make some coaches question whether they want to do this. If they are constantly worried about being punished, even if they have good intentions, they may believe the risk just isnt worth it. That just hurts the student-athletes in the end.

Right now, Philadelphia is the saddest pro sports city in America

Some caveats, before everyone yells at me on Twitter: I am only speaking about pro sports cities, ie cities with pro sports. I agree that people in Twin Falls, Idaho have no pro sports, and thus are probably a sadder pro sports city. But for a city like Philadelphia, with a proud pro sports tradition and teams in all the four major sports, things are dire right now.

The Eagles we already discussed, but theyll probably finish 6-10, which is just enough wins to give ownership pause about firing Chip Kelly. That should worry Eagles fans. I like Chip Kelly, but I like him more as the next coach of LSU than the coach of a pro football team.

The Phillies have been a laughingstock in MLB for several years, and are only now digging themselves out of the massive, Ryan Howard-filled hole theyve been living in for quite some time. Theres hope there, finally, but this is a team that won the fewest games in all of Major League Baseball this year and watched the division rival New York Mets just go to the World Series with the most talented young rotation in baseball. Things arent exactly sunshine and moonbeams in Citizens Bank Park.