Super Bowl Edition: How to talk with people about racial equity using sports analogies

By Heidi Schillinger

This weekend is Super Bowl LII. I’ll be rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles, in case you care. I am feeling very bitter about the Seahawks not making the playoffs and that one team who shall not be named being in the Super Bowl again. Sorry to any Fakequity Fighters out there who root for that team. While my sister tries hard to get me to pay attention to college women’s hoops, really the time between the Seahawks and the Seattle Storm is a long dry sport watching period for me. By the way, if you are thinking, Seattle Storm? They would be the WNBA team in Seattle. Yes, Seattle has a basketball team and I am a proud season ticket holder. Go, Storm!

Wearing Seahawks jerseys at a work event.

Okay, so while advertisers are bombarding us with Super Bowl ads, let’s harness that energy and talk sports analogies and racial equity. You know, because I have the unique ability to make any conversation into one about racial equity and racial justice. Does that qualify as a superpower? Besides someone recently told me I need to write funny blog posts too. So, if you hate my attempt at mixing racial equity and humor, you can blame Vu. [Side note, be sure to ask Erin about that one time I had us both in Seahawks jerseys facilitating a meeting. She might even be able to show you a picture. Erin’s note — picture found and posted, I looked so young, that was just three years ago pre-fakequity blogging.]

I am going to write these analogies like a “Dear Fakequity” column. All sentiments are real, but the letters are made up. Any resemblance to you is an intentional coincidence. If you have a real “Dear Fakequity” question send it to Erin at She will answer it between episodes of Queen Sugar. These are meant to be useful but cheeky, and not necessarily very deep. So take them with that disclaimer.

Dear Fakequity,

I have a friend who says that they are inherently a good person, who loves different cultures and races, and treats everyone equally, so they don’t need to focus on “racial equity.” How can I approach a conversation with them?

Speechless in Seattle

Dear Speechless in Seattle,

When you say, “you have a friend” does that really mean you? There is too much (contradiction) to unpack here in a word limited blog post. But let’s jump right to the big picture and use a football analogy here. I love football. I respect the game. I even know a little about the rules and players, (but don’t quiz me). Here is the thing loving the game, respecting the players, being knowledgeable about the rules, doesn’t mean I can get on the field and play football. We are done here.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

My coworkers are upset that we have an equity and social justice initiative. They said all this talk of race is making worse, that nothing was wrong and now this initiative is stirring up trouble where there isn’t any.

Stirring Things Up

Dear Stirring Things Up,

I saw this poster recently that had the MLK quote, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” This might be a good starting point, but they might think this is stirring things up too. So let’s try using a basketball analogy. Roll with me here. Or maybe bounce with me here works better. I was recently watching the University of Washington vs. Washington State women’s basketball game with my sister. I noticed there was a new line painted in key. Since my sister keeps up on changes in the game more than I do, I had to ask her what that new line meant. If you’re curious it means offensive players can’t get called for an offensive foul inside that line. I reflected on all the changes the game of basketball has had over the years. I started playing organized basketball when I was six years old and had a short-lived career through high school, but since I started playing the game has added a shot clock, a three-point line, constant changes to the over and back rules and jump ball rules, just to name a few. Even a classic game like Basketball evolves and changes with the times. What about trying to be like the game of basketball?

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

After getting asked to sit on my fifth interview panel at work this week, I think I might be the token person of color my organization wants to put on display. I’m not getting extra pay, and this is not a part of my job description, but I secretly like to use my biases for good. Is this wrong?

Biases for Good

Dear Biases for Good,

If one day you are fed up with being tokenized and decide to let a long string of swear words out as you resign while slamming doors, our Fakequity community will totally understand. I also have some good support groups to recommend or would be happy to buy you a beer or two. In the meantime, I am totally for using biases for good. Let me explain using a soccer analogy (or what the rest of the world calls football). Bear with me, I know very little about soccer. I once experienced grown adults screaming, “I’m Sounders ‘til I die” loudly all night, so that is about my only credibility here. My other credibility, I am using that word loosely here, comes from watching my young nephews and niece play. One cold night a few weeks ago, I noticed that soccer referees are positioned on different places of the field. One is there to observe the whole field, but two assistants are positioned along the sidelines looking for when the ball leaves play. This is how I see using biases for good working too. I am guessing that your experience as a person of color in your organization helps you see things that others on the panel don’t see, and this is a good thing. If fact, I would try to advocate for finding more people of color to help you use your biases for good, since we all know “people of color” is way too broad of a category to even begin to capture all the unique ways we might be able to see the field or evaluate a candidate. While you’re at it, you could work on rallying your white allies to make more systemic changes to the process, like not tokenizing, compensating, etc. but that is a longer letter.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

My organization is really focused on the individual level of addressing racism in our organization. We are constantly receiving training on things like implicit bias, cross-cultural communication, etc. I feel like something is missing. Any advice?

Left Feeling Individually Empty

Dear Left Feeling Individually Empty,

Your gut feeling is not the sign of the flu. But I am in no way qualified to give medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional. Your organization is on the right track but might be missing the whole field. That line was the set up for my track and field analogy. I am more qualified to talk about track and field than give medical advice. I high jumped and triple jumped (yes, that is a hop, skip and a jump) in college. Focusing on the individual level of addressing racism is like all the individual events in track and field, but at the end of the day it is also a team sport. I could win my event, but as a team we might still loose. Looking at how the whole team performed was equally important as fostering individual athletes. A good team and coach know, they can’t just foster individuals and neglect the team. It sounds like your organization, and many others, are overly focused on the individual athletes and ignoring the team (or systemic) aspect of addressing racism and creating racial equity. Oh, one more thing, you might also want to share a past Fakequity blog post, We can’t train our way to racial equity, with people in your organization.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

I tried to use some of your sport analogies to talk with people about racial equity and they were offended because sports have so much racism, classism, and sexism. What do you say to these responses?

I Tried

Dear I Tried,

Well, I tried too. I would try the good ol’ rule of improv, “yes, and.” Yes, sports are not exempt from the racism, sexism, and classism that exists in our society at large. Native mascots, gender pay chasms, lack of accountability for things such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, just to name a few. And, we can both acknowledge those things and recognize that many people relate to sports. Talking with someone in a way that they already understand is like using your bilingual language skills. It could be that this is not the language of the people you mention. You could always try using Reality TV analogies.

Team Fakequity #15

In closing, I would like to mention that I made it through a whole blog post about sports without mentioning cycling. Well, until now. But if you miss my cycling analogies you can either a) buy me a beer; b) attend one of my workshops; or c) read any of my past blog post.

Go, Philadelphia Eagles!

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