Utah Jazz team up with athletes across the state to 'Lead Together' in the fight against discrimination

by Aaron Falk

Whether you root for the Utah Jazz, Real Salt Lake, the University of Utah or BYU, here’s something we can all support: athletes and coaches representing Utah have joined forces, pledging to stand against discrimination, inequality, injustice, and racism in our state.

The “Lead Together” video features several high-profile athletes—including Utah Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, Olympic skater Nathan Chen, pro golfer Tony Finau, and Utah Royals and World Cup stars Christen Press, Kelley O'Hara, and Becky Sauerbrunn—and will be played at sporting venues all across Utah. But Utah Jazz officials said the video will only be the start of a long-term commitment to promote a community of inclusion and belonging—and they hoped it would help spark a conversation throughout the state.

“We’ve seen experiences at the pro level, the college level, the high school level, even at youth games,” said Don Stirling, executive vice president of Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment. “It just seems there is a level of incivility at times. You see it happening throughout the country. We felt like, from our position and the role we play in this community, perhaps we can at least start a conversation.”

The Lead Together video will be played before Jazz games at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

“Everyone who walks through the doors of a sporting event should expect courtesy, respect, common decency and civility,” said Gail Miller, owner and chairman of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies and the Utah Jazz. “We’re united in our values, and we’re all joining together as citizens of our communities and the state of Utah to make a clear statement about who we are and what we’re about. Words matter. No one wins when respect goes away.”

But the pledge and message from athletes and coaches, such as Real Salt Lake players Kyle Beckerman and Nedum Onuoha, University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham, and Brigham Young University head football coach Kalani Sitake, will speak to all Utah sports fans.

“We need to take responsibility when the words we hear cause pain, anger and divisiveness. Be mindful of what you say. If you hear something wrong, offensive or hateful, speak up,” members of the Lead Together video say to fans.

Jazz officials established the Lead Together campaign after consulting with the Boston Red Sox, who led efforts on a similar project in New England.

“When you start to have these conversations, you begin to realize that even within your own walls there are times and places we could have done better,” Stirling said. “The teams in New England experienced that and, frankly, we did too. It gives you the opportunity to say, ‘From this point forward, we’re going to do better. We need to do a better job.’”

Jazz leaders also sought input from Utah leaders.

“We appreciated the willingness of the Utah Jazz organization to not only seek advice but embrace it. Our conversations were frank, instructive and productive,” said Emma E. Houston, inclusion director for Salt Lake County’s Office of Diversity Affairs.

Buy-in from other franchises, athletes and universities came quickly, Stirling said.

“It was an affirmation,” he said. “Because everyone we talked to said, ‘Yes, we’re in. This is good.’”

Jazz officials still want their thousands of loyal fans to be loud and proud when they’re at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

“This isn’t about sitting on your hands at the game,” Stirling said. “We want Jazz fans as loud as possible. It’s home-court advantage. We just want everyone to respect everyone there.”

But on game days—and every other day—Jazz leaders hope the Lead Together message will promote a dialogue about respect.

“We hope these conversations take place in the workplace, in classrooms, amongst fans, amongst families,” Stirling said. “We hope this starts a conversation and over time, game by game, season by season, rivalry by rivalry, things will change.”

For more information, visit LeadTogetherUtah.org.

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