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Richard Lapchick believes in the uniting power of sports

Richard Lapchik founded the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University and Project TEAMWORK, a violence prevention program. Photo: Todd Anderson

When he was a young boy, Richard Lapchick wanted to be a famous basketball player. He had every reason to believe it was possible: His dad was Joe Lapchick, the NBA basketball player and Hall of Fame coach of the New York Knickerbockers.

But something else kept turning Lapchick’s head: injustice.

“When I was a kid, I ended up playing ball against a lot of African-American kids. I saw the disparity of how we lived versus how they were living,” recalls Lapchick (MA ’70 and PhD ’73, international studies), recipient of DU’s 2007 Founders Day Professional Achievement Award.

Lapchick was raised to recognize the disparity. His father was the first NBA coach to sign a black player, and that act brought terror to his family in the form of racists who hung an effigy of the coach from the family’s front tree.

At 14, Lapchick attended the 1960 Olympics in Rome and “saw how sport could bring people together across race, geography and nationality.”

A passion for equality — using sports — was born. Lapchick attended DU’s Graduate School for International Studies because, he says, “They had faculty who were activists themselves. I saw that you could be an academic and be politically active in areas important to you.”

Lapchick has authored 12 books, launched numerous organizations and founded academic institutes to fight inequality worldwide, including the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University; Project TEAMWORK, a violence prevention program; the National Consortium for Academics and Sport; and Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), which educates college and high school students about men’s violence against women.

He founded and currently directs the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport and chairs the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida.

Lapchick also led the American sports boycott of South Africa during apartheid, a stand that nearly cost him his life during a brutal physical attack in 1978.

“Richard has stood for unpopular causes, and he never abandoned his principles,” says DU international studies Associate Professor Arthur Gilbert, who taught Lapchick in the 1970s and has remained close. “He stands for justice.”

Lapchick says his proudest professional moment came on the day he shared the presidential box with Nelson Mandela at a Zambia vs. South Africa soccer match just two hours after Mandela’s presidential inauguration.

“People were throwing diplomatic parties in his honor all over Pretoria and he was at a soccer match,” Lapchick recalls. “I asked him why and he said, ‘I wanted my people to understand how their sacrifice in sports hastened my release and inauguration. I wanted to thank them.’

“At that moment,” Lapchick says, “I knew anything was possible.”

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