Elevating Access to Sport

May 18, 2016  • Aspen Institute Staff

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Above, ESPN Analyst Craig Robinson in conversation with his sister, first lady Michelle Obama, at the 2016 Project Play Summit.

More than 450 leaders at the intersection of sport, youth, and health convened yesterday in Washington, DC, for the 2016 Project Play Summit, where panels explored ways to grow youth access to sport and first lady Michelle Obama issued a direct appeal to stakeholders to close the gap for children from low-income homes. A live-stream audience followed along, with the event trending on social media during the day.

Read below for a roundup of highlights from the day.

FLOTUS calls for more investment in access to sports

In perhaps her most extended comments on the topic, Obama marveled at the disparities in resources spent on children and sports across communities. She offered insights as part of a featured conversation with her brother Craig Robinson, moderated by his ESPN colleague Michael Wilbon.

“So many communities are becoming play deserts,” she said. “But, in wealthy communities, there is a wealth of resources. You can be in field hockey, or you can learn how to swim. There are aquatic centers… I’ve seen the difference, the disparities are amazing to me. So are we saying that some kids are worthy of that investment of physical activity and then there are millions of others who aren’t? And what’s the role that we as a society have for making sure that we have equal access?”

With her mother Marian Robinson seated in front of her in the first row, the session felt less like a keynote and more like an intimate living room conversation with reflections on how much the youth sports experience has changed, for the better and worse, since she and her brother were growing up in South Side Chicago in the 1970s. Wilbon also was raised in South Side Chicago.

The three of them reminisced about the days they all spent playing with local neighborhood, engaged in low- or no-cost physical activity — indoors and outdoors — often organized by the children themselves.

“We would play all day long, for hours,” Obama said.

“All you had to do was report back to the house every couple of hours,” Robinson replied.

Today, with increased concern of public safety and many public parks and playgrounds in rapid decline, parents are left with fewer — and more costly — choices for youth sport. That being the case, Obama called on the sports industry and other sectors to find the funding to get more children engaged in sports, describing it as an “investment” in their own future given the relationship between participation and fandom as well as the development of more elite athletes.

“Whatever the dollar figure is, as a society, as taxpayers, as corporate America, we should figure out how much that costs and then pay for it,” she said. “Period.”

Watch video of the full interview on YouTube.

Tennis Legend Billie Jean King calls for more female coaches

Tennis champion, gender equality and gay rights activist Billie Jean King encouraged the audience to not forget about females when thinking about accessibility for sports. “We don’t have enough women coaches,” she said. “I am sorry to say it. Don’t forget about the girls and the women, we are half of the population. I am serious. We are forgotten.”

Only one in four youth sport coaches were women in 2015, according to data in Project Play’s latest report, “State of Play: 2016,” a draft of which was released at the summit. There’s been no growth in the percentage of women coaches in recent years. (A final version of the report will be released in the coming weeks, incorporating insights from the Summit where the crowd used instant polling software to assess the state of play in each of the eight strategies identified in the seminal Project Play report, “Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game”).

The former World No. 1 tennis player also stressed the importance of sports in making communities safer, and its role in making us more resilient and self-aware.

See news coverage in The Washington Post. Also check out our Storify coverage and find the most tweetable moments by searching for #projectplay. The full list of sessions and panels, and associated materials, can be found on the 2016 Project Play Summit event page. Check back later as more video from those sessions is made available.

Tweets of the Day: Read below for some of the most tweetable moments from #projectplay.