Thinking Through the Big Ideas

The future of sports, and its impact on society, will be shaped by an array of factors both within and beyond the control of stakeholders. Advances in technology will continue to create paradigm shifts in the provision and value of experiences. Leadership also matters – the ability to mobilize around new models and policies that can serve the common good.

Launched in 2018, our “Future of Sports” conversation series is a venue to think through some of the biggest ideas on the horizon, all potential game-changers.

Hosted at the Aspen Institute’s headquarters in Washington D.C., each event focuses on a key question that is worthy of deep exploration. Leaders from diverse backgrounds — sport chiefs, athletes, academics, policymakers, business innovators, educators, journalists and others — share their perspective through moderated dialogue.

Each conversation is live-streamed and archived, often with an Aspen-authored piece of related content. The events are open to the public and are free, though space is limited. Questions, and requests for media credentials, can be emailed to, editorial director for the Sports & Society Program.

Thank you to The Washington Post for its support as media partner of the series.

Future of College Sports: Government’s Role in Athlete Pay

Dec. 17, 2019

What if Congress developed a national solution to the college athlete pay debate? Should the federal government get involved, and if so, how? What would be the implications for the NCAA and college athletes? What interest does Congress have in stepping in to potentially create federal law instead of a state-by-state approach?Speakers included: Mark Emmert, NCAA president; Mark Walker, North Carolina congressman; and Ramogi Huma, National College Players Association executive director.

Future of the U.S. Olympic Movement: Reimagining Goals Beyond Medals

May 22, 2019

What’s next for the U.S. Olympic movement, as reforms are introduced following the sexual abuse scandal that emerged in USA Gymnastics? What if the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee focused first and foremost on the safety and well-being of athletes while also growing opportunities for all, not just those with medal potential? Does Norway have the answer to excess in youth sports with its Children’s Rights in Sports model, as the Aspen Institute’s Tom Farrey recently explored for The New York Times? Speakers included USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland and 7-time Olympic gymnastics medalist Shannon Miller.

Future of Coaching: Calls for Coaches to Support Emotional and Social Skills

March 5, 2019

Sports provides a vital opportunity for skill growth, mentorship and other benefits, with the athlete-coach relationship serving as the critical element to realizing these opportunities. What if coaches were measured not by wins and losses, but by the personal growth of their athletes? The Sports & Society Program partnered with the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development to release resources that youth sports coaches can use to promote social and emotional development in their athletes. Speakers included former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and University of Maryland men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski.


Future of Sports Activism: Reimagining its Bottom Line

Dec. 10, 2018

The year 2018 marked another fascinating one for activism in sports. Athletes, brands and leagues took different positions on whether and how to address political and social issues. Some are praised for speaking out in the sports arena; others face backlash. What if athlete activism was a regular feature of sports? If more athletes spoke up on matters of public importance, what would be the implications in a number of areas, such as fan engagement, sponsorships, relationships within teams, athlete health and welfare, and society in general? Speakers included NFL Players Association Public Policy Counsel Joe Briggs, Washington Post sports reporter Liz Clarke, University of Maryland football player Ellis McKennie, Minnesota Lynx Coach/General Manager Cheryl Reeve, ESPN reporter Israel Gutierrez, and former NBA player/author Etan Thomas.


Future of Sports Betting: Reimagining its Public Value

Sept. 14, 2018

The Supreme Court has opened the door for states to offer legalized sports betting, and a couple dozen states plan to do so. Can this activity be used to serve the public interest – and not just the casinos and another industry actors? Speakers included Major League Baseball Senior Vice President Morgan Sword, Sports & Fitness Industry Association CEO Tom Cove, Sportradar US Deputy President Dr. Laila Mintas, gaming and sports law attorney Daniel Wallach, and Ohio state senator Bill Coley.

READ ORIGINAL ASPEN CONTENT: Sports Betting in the Public Interest

Future of College Sports: Reimagining Athlete Pay

May 1, 2018

Our second event focused on college athletics and explores the implications if NCAA athletes were allowed to be paid off their names, images and likenesses. Speakers included former Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson III, Clemson Athletic Director Dan Radakovich, former Wisconsin basketball star and current NBA player Nigel Hayes, and Atlantic-10 Conference Commissioner Bernadette McGlade. The event built off previous Sports & Society Program conversations with NCAA leaders.

READ ORIGINAL ASPEN CONTENT: The History Behind the Debate Over Paying NCAA Athletes


Future of Football: Reimagining the Game’s Pipeline

Jan. 25, 2018

Our inaugural event focused on the nation’s most-watched sport, in advance of the Super Bowl. What if flag football, not tackle, becomes the standard way of playing the game until high school? Speakers included concussion expert Dr. Robert Cantu, former NFL players Chris Borland and Domonique Foxworth, and USA Football Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck. The event built on the Sports & Society program’s thought leadership work on youth football through its Project Play initiative, which aims to build healthy children and communities through sports. Read our white paper on the topic.