They all had to deal with navigating a kind of hybrid identity while at Harvard: of being Black, being a student, and being an athlete. Some were on teams where they were the only African American; others had Black teammates or coaches, which made some things easier and others different, sometimes richer.
But all felt their experiences helped shaped their views of race in America and in sport, and the members of an all-star panel of former University athletes came together in a Black Varsity Association Zoom event on Friday to discuss the impact of race on the college and professional sports worlds.
The panelists included Koma Gandy Fischbein ’95, who played varsity women’s soccer at Harvard and rugby at Radcliffe, rose to the rank of lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, and now works in educational technology. James Blake ’00 was an All-American tennis player during his two years at Harvard who went on to become a top-ranked player on the ATP circuit. Chris Egi ’18 played men’s basketball at Harvard and is now an investor at Goldman Sachs, working with the firm’s $500 million program to invest in women and minorities. Gabby Thomas ’19 is a professional track and field athlete, who broke the NCAA indoor 200-meter record while at Harvard. Moderating the panel was LZ Granderson, Los Angeles Times sports columnist and ESPN radio host.
Before getting into sports and Harvard, Granderson broached the larger topic of how attitudes have changed since the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year, and what sort of cultural shifts the panelists have witnessed.
Egi found cause for optimism, citing work with his own anti-racist nonprofit No More Names organization. “I would say the willingness to have a dialogue has emerged,” he said. “In the aftermath of the events of the summer, where we lost many beautiful Black souls, I thought we saw some positive momentum. It’s almost like peoples’ eyes were opened for the first time, when we’ve been shouting this for years upon years. … What I don’t think has happened yet is a permanent shift. We had a summer where everyone was making statements, and I hope we the people can continue to do the work even when it’s not the top headline.”