Thursday, August 15th, 2013
What Boxing can Teach about Diversity and Inclusion
Over the last few years, I’ve become quite a fan of boxing. I may not know who the boxers are, their weight class, or title status, but I can appreciate the strength, discipline, and let’s face it, the entertainment value of two people punching each other in search of victory. While names may escape me, there are some that even newcomer fans like me can’t help but recognize. One such person, is Freddy Roach. A 53 year old retired American Boxer, Roach boasted a 40-13 record and in his retirement was voted Trainer of the Year five times. Some of his boxers include greats like: Manny Pacquiao, Julio César Chávez, Jr., and women’s champion Lucia Rijker.
Last night, I was unimpressed by the choices on “regular” television so I turned to boxing. An incredible night of fights for sure! But I was more struck by what I couldn’t see. Not only is Roach a talented man to have in corner and in the ring, but he was an insightful and valuable contributor as a commentator for last night’s matches.
By this point I’m sure non-boxing fans are scratching their heads and saying “big deal.” Well, what I find as the big deal is that Roach is well along in his life with Parkinson’s Disease. In the on-camera shots he shakes noticeably. In the off-camera voice-overs his voice is on the softer side and has some hesitation. But every word that came out, was pure boxing analysis gold! NBC Sports deserves a tremendous note of credit for recognizing talent and smarts are all that matters. One’s illness and slight physical impairment that do not interfere with their qualifications to do a job, are just footnotes to the true bigger picture.
I couldn’t help but reflect back on a previous job of mine, when a quick, sharp, limber amputee tried out with hundreds of other “normal” kids to be ball-kids for a tennis tournament. The selection team was hesitant to have the amputee, who performed as well as the others, on the main court out of fear that it could be a distraction to the players or the fans. They said it was OK to relegate the amputee to work lesser matches on smaller courts but not the main.
I wonder if that ever crossed the minds of the folks at NBC Sports. Frankly, I’m sure it did. I’m sure someone said, “but what if Roach shakes on camera?” I’m sure someone else asked, “will the viewers turn the channel because they’re uncomfortable?” Then I’m sure the smartest person in the room said, “come on folks! This is Freddy Roach! One of the most respected men in boxing. If he’s not in the corner with a boxer, he should be on the mic with our team.” And so it goes.
Think about what holds you back when you meet someone with an impairment. Is it fear that they can’t do the job, or how you’re going to feel working next to them? Are they qualified to do the job? Do they have past performance? Can they bring something extra to the table that you don’t already have? If you answered yes to any of the above, give them a shot! Include them. Include them as an employee, a teammate, an advisor, a consultant, an analyst. At the end of the day, it should be about their skillset and not whether someone else is going to be comfortable with their impairment.
Much like you forget all about a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other quality once you’ve had a chance to get to know them personally, one’s physical impairment is easy to overlook when you see all that they can do. Comfort comes with exposure and experience. Bring someone in and get started on your comfort. Your business just might be better for it.
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