By Roderick Diamond II
In addition to the big name athletes and celebrities, All-Star Weekend brought Chicago high-profile African American professionals from the business end of sports, finance and other fields to a Friday brunch and panel.
The event was hosted by Jaia Thomas, founder of Diverse Representation, in collaboration with Porter Wright and Merrill Lynch at Taste 222 in the West Loop area.
Thomas, who is a sports and entertainment lawyer, said the event had a two-fold purpose. One involved creating the space where black professionals in the sports industry are able to network with each other. Another provided a platform for black agents, financial advisors and attorneys to speak on their experiences working with athletes. The also discussed the challenges of gaining more diversity in the professional space.
“During NBA All-Star Weekend, a lot of athletes are here and a lot of their reps are here – attorneys, managers. So it is really the biggest event of the year with regards to basketball,” Thomas said. “It’s important to have this event during this time because everyone is here at the same place and it’s the only time out of the year where all the agents, managers and athletes are in one space. So it’s the best time to grab everyone in to have these conversations.”
Panelists spoke on the importance of increasing black representation for black athletes in the sports world and for black people in general. Sharing the right financial information for these athletes and financial literacy that starts in high school are critical. Panelist Lamar Campbell, who is the Director of Player Development for the Chicago Bears, discussed the significance of having these converging conversations on an academic level.
“We need to meet in the middle,” said Campbell; “ When you are in the process of developing a free-thinking black male, you first have to steer him away from what’s ‘hot’, or ‘How do I get this bag.’”
Those distractions known to plague players careers mentally and financially are only part of the problem. The other is bridging the gap of putting more black faces in front offices instead of in uniforms. That is the goal of Thomas’s organization Diverse Representation.
“I love moderating and talking about things to help empower black people and helping us in sports,” Young said.
Young moderated the panel and said he understood how important it was for him to be there.
“I talk to athletes all the time, and I learned how to talk to them about aligning themselves with more black people of different professions,” Young said. “Also [there’s] the networking part of it and meeting different faces, so if an athlete says, ‘I am looking for somebody,’ it helps expand that network.”
At the end of the event, Thomas was awarded a trailblazer award by Luke Fedlam of the Porter Wright law firm, with offices in Chicago. Thomas said that being an audience member she learned how much the sports landscape is changing and the challenges advisers and athletes face.
This event helped begin the conversation of black growth, stability and longevity in the sports industry on and off the field.