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    Breaking Down Barriers to Sports and Business

    kaiAt a Civil Rights Summit in Austin last April 2014, basketball great Bill Russell related the current struggles of gay athletes fighting for equal playing opportunities with the decades-long discrimination faced by black athletes. From school-age teams to professional sports, questions about whether LGBT teammates might cause disruption in locker rooms, or fan or PR problems, echo the era when colleges and pro sports were given civil rights mandates to end racial segregation and achieve integration.

    Russell, now 80, led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA championships and is a Hall of Fame legend. He joined panel members at the Austin Summit in emphasizing that civil rights is a matter of valuing every person for their humanity, and rewarding character and merit rather than discriminating on the basis of various traits. Russell then famously said, “I would have only one question about a gay teammate: Can he play?”

    This is a great question, and it really is the only one that ought to have any relevance in sports. Or on any playing field of life. However, the question unfortunately still carries an inherent sexist bias. Bill Russell may or may not have been aware that the rightful question actually is: “Can he or she play?” Talent, dedication, and performance are what matter—as well as how one plays the game, win or lose.

    kai2Race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, dis/ability, etc. have no bearing on an individual’s right to play with dignity, and to have an equal chance to participate and to progress in any sport or profession. No one should have to suffer the effects of discrimination based on any of the ‘isms’ that have limited and even denied whole groups access to equal participation and pay, advancement opportunities, and respectful treatment.

    The recent Every BusinessWoman Golf Retreat, held at Chardonnay Golf Club in Napa April 10–12, was designed to equip all women to be out there playing the games of golf, business, and business-golf. As I discussed last month leading up to this unique training event, both golf and business have quite frankly been domains long dominated by men, and by white people. Change is accelerating now, thanks to liberation movements and globalization influences. And it’s important that we’re all in the game, for our own well-being and as change-agents by our very presence.

    Our Napa Retreat group very consciously consisted of all skill levels, a wide variety of professions and businesses, women ages 26 to 70, black, white, Latina, gay, straight, civilian and former military, east and west coast—not to mention a wonderful range of personalities! The diversity and bonding was awesome, and every participant expressed what an excellent, enjoyable and transformative learning experience they had.

    Instructional began with an indoor KiAi Golf session, where universal self-mastery skills of centering, grounding, balance, relaxation, and mind-body focus and coordination were combined with energy-flow and sequencing exercises to form a good golf swing. The program was full with putting, short game and full-swing practice; rules, etiquette and essentials for capitalizing on the business opportunities of golf; and very fun playing time and lessons amid the blooming vineyards of Chardonnay Golf Club. The last morning brought in current technology as LPGA Pro Rebecka Heinmert came over from the East Bay to share “Trackman” and the latest in video, apps and golf training aids.

    Many times during the Retreat, I took a step back or a moment out just to behold in wonder the beauty of everyone blending together so well. The atmosphere was easy, inclusive and joyful as businesswomen ate and networked together, went through indoor and outdoor training sessions, practiced on the driving range, then rode around in golf carts playing as “foursome-mates” on the course.

    It was a great honor and pleasure for me to co-teach with Dr. Renee Powell, who joined us from East Canton, Ohio. Renee is only the second African-American woman to play on the LPGA Tour (1967–1980), and just months ago she became one of the first seven women ever admitted to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews. Renee was so generous and genuine in sharing her great talents as both a player and instructor.

    Renee could play! Everyone soaked in her stories and insights from golfing professionally on Tour. But being allowed to play was far from straightforward. She also shared harrowing tales of what it was like to be a black female golfer, from hotels losing track of only her reservation, to playing partners having to stand up for her to be served in clubhouses and at restaurants, to receiving death threats during tournaments as she walked down fairways and onto greens. We were all inspired hearing the pioneering achievements of Renee and her father, William Powell, who was the first black golfer to ever design and build a golf course back in 1946. Renee’s humble humanity and giving spirit touched everyone profoundly.

    I want to give a shout out to this newspaper and to “Betty’s List,” which brought Sonoma realtor Suzanne Ash to the Napa Retreat. Suzanne is a very cool person and businesswoman, and has given me permission to share some of her experiences that I hope will be fun and motivating for everyone:

    “What you taught worked so well for me! So well that I can’t wait to be on the course, and am committed to being out there at least 3 days a week hitting balls and playing one day. You actually gave me the opportunity not only to improve my game, but also to really want to practice and play more often. Through the retreat, I just made myself more interesting! I’m working on a local project with several other female agents who are enthralled with the idea that this whole weekend mixed an activity (golf) with business, and made sure there was a diverse group of women linking their skills and experiences together. My roommate was a young golfer and entrepreneur from Antigua! My network just increased, and expanding my sphere of influence and confidence improves my business.

    The other day I was at one of my local courses to practice on the range and look into the Women’s Golf Club. I saw a tournament starting and had the confidence to join in, with only one other woman, and I got to play with two very influential guys who gave me kudos for just ‘walking on.’ They were great and we had so much fun. Also for the first time in one of these tournaments, my shots from the tee, fairway, putts and chips were used at least 50% of the time! My long ball is about 224 yards now. My putting…eh…but it was better this game than it has ever been. I had a very great time and lasted all 18 holes on a very long course. Oh, and I know what irons are for… and I almost know which ones for which distances. I am now willing to say that I’m a golfer! This will help my business in many ways. Also knowing the rules of the game, what etiquette is appropriate, and when and why. I learned so much more, and I am so very glad I was there!”

    And so I’d like to close for this month with this question: Will you play?!

    Jamie Leno Zimron is an LPGA Pro, Aikido 5th Degree Black Belt, and Corporate Speaker-Trainer. Please check out her website: http://www.thekiaiway.com