The Rose Bowl announced Wednesday that it is forming a think tank populated by key figures in the sports world to promote leadership, sportsmanship and unity from the world-renowned stadium.
The Rose Bowl Institute seeks to draw on the 98 years of rich sports history at the venue to champion the values and life lessons that sports can teach, organizers said. It’s a partnership between the stadium and the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation.
“Using the iconic Stadium as a classroom, with a wide digital footprint and ‘sister cities’ around the nation, the Institute will engage civic and business leaders, athletes, sportscasters, journalists, children and noteworthy panelists to highlight sports values and their impact on the broader society. The Institute will initially concentrate on sportsmanship, leadership and citizenship initiatives,” the RBi said in a written statement.
The first planned event of the RBi is a three-part dialogue on “Race and Sports,” set to begin Aug. 13, according to the RBi. A live-streamed “Women’s Empowerment Symposium” is slate for Sept. 16-18.
A series of roundtable discussions called “Rose Table Dialogues” will be held continuously to bring together community and industry leaders, officials said.
“These moderated dialogues will define critical issues relating to sports values and recommend creative yet practical solutions,” according to the RBi’s website.
“Future plans call for a Center on Sports and Innovation, the Rose Bowl Sportsmanship Initiative (ROSI) that will recognize, encourage and award outstanding acts of sportsmanship, and an annual conference where respected leaders will come together to help spark change in sports and in society,” according to the statement.
Longtime Aspen Institute think tank executive Charlie Firestone has been selected to serve as the Rose Bowl Institute’s inaugural president.
“This is the right organization, created at the right time, to address critical issues of sports values relevant to our democracy,” he said. “Sportsmanship incorporates appreciation for the game, respect for the opponent, fair play and teamwork. All of those pertain to the vital role that citizens play in our society today. We are non-partisan but not value-neutral. We will work for integrity, inclusion, equity, and fairness in sports and beyond.”
The Institute has begun forming its Advisory Board, “comprised of national leading sports, media, civic and business leaders,” according to the RBi statement. “They include Vince Young, Ronnie Lott, Ann Meyers Drysdale, Julie Foudy, JC Watts, Dick Vermeil, Jessica Mendoza, Billie Jean King and others.”
“They exemplify the kind of integrity that we are looking for in sports figures,’ Firestone said. “They have an impact. They can convey integrity, fairness, inclusion, commitment and perseverance.”
While the Rose Bowl is perhaps best known for football and soccer, the advisors also include representatives from a wide array of sports, from Olympic bobsledder Lauren Gibbs to chess grandmaster Maurice Ashley.
“One of the things we’re doing is moving from football and soccer to all sports,” Firestone said.
“I’m excited about the topic and what the possibilities are for this institute,” Firestone said.
The values taught by sports provide “an opportunity to improve ourselves and our communities,” he said. Competitive athletics reinforce “sportsmanship, leadership and citizenship.
And the values of sports translate directly into societal values, Firestone said.
“One of the things that got me so excited about doing this: After 30 years at the Aspen Institute, I saw a need for depolarization of our society, a return to civic values,” he said.
“Sports is a real meritocracy,” he added. “You don’t care who else is in your fan base, you want fellow fans, you cheer right next to them,” he said.
“Nelson Mandela saw this, saying that sports has the power to unite people like nothing else.He said sports can create hope where there was only once despair,” Firestone said
“We want to be the place to go when people think about sportsmanship,” he said. “We’re going to invite people to submit sportsmanship stories from all over the country.”
Firestone said he espouses four key elements of “sportsman as citizenship,” which include appreciation of the game, fair play, respect for the opponent and teamwork.
The values have direct analogies in a democratic government, such as understanding the democratic process, playing by the rules, respecting those who disagree and collaboration.
“I see us eventually bringing athletes into school to talk about sportsmanship as citizenship,” he said.
“We’re in favor of competition. We’re in favor of winning. But we want to move people from a win-at-all-costs mentality to a sportsmanship mentality,” Firestone said.
The RBi will also seed out additional opportunities for the stadium to be used.
The meeting area where the Rose Table Dialogues will be held, inside of the stadium’s 1922 historic locker room, may also be used as an executive retreat, Firestone said. “It’s going to be a whole new use for the Rose Bowl.”
Sports have had a major impact on Firestone’s own life, he said.
As a 97-pound 9th-grader, Firestone said he was cut from his high school football team. He then joined the wrestling team, competing in the 103-pounds weight class.
“I probably set the Missouri state record for the most times being pinned,” he said. “I was terrible.”
But his coach brought him back as a returning letterman, encouraging him to continue training and offering workout tips.
Bit by bit, Firestone said he got stronger. By his junior year of high school, he placed 4th in the state. He went on to captain his college wrestling team.
“That gave me great confidence in my life. “…literally pulling myself up a rope to get strong and learning the moves better.”
Rose Bowl CEO and General Manager Darryl Dunn said the formation of the RBi represented an exciting opportunity to share not just the memories and moments at the stadium, but also the lessons and values that they teach.
“The Rose Bowl is not only a venue known for legendary sports moments, but also as a shrine to amazing sports values,” he said. “The Rose Bowl Institute will reflect and celebrate the essence of the Rose Bowl as we look forward to celebrating our centennial in 2022 and instilling strong sports values in American youth to develop more engaged citizens. We are excited to partner in this amazing venture.”
More information is available on the RBi’s website at rosebowlinstitute.org.