THE NEW ERA OF WELLNESS
EP3: Achieving Real Parity for University Athletes
Curtis Spence, Assistant Athletic Director at New York University, and Edona Thaqi, current university athlete at Fordham University, join us in our continuing conversation around sports, mental health, equity, and finance. In this episode, we dive into university athletes' real experiences and difficulties from the athlete's and the administrative perspectives. We talk the changes needed for parity, financial literacy, and overall health for athletes.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
CURTIS SPENCE joined New York University as Assistant Athletic Director in the summer of 2014 following the merger of NYU and NYU-Poly’s athletic departments. His main duties include overseeing the day-to-day operation of NYU’s Brooklyn Athletic Facility and supervising staff at that location. Spence also has responsibility at specific intercollegiate home events and now also serves as the Department's Diversity and Inclusion Designee.
Before joining the NYU staff, Spence served as the Director of Athletics at NYU-Poly from 2012-14. While in that position, Spence directed all administration and operational activities for the school’s athletic department. Additionally, he led the department’s annual fundraising programs, assisted in compliance and oversaw the student-athlete academic progress.
Prior to his tenure at NYU-Poly, Spence worked as an annual giving officer at Connecticut College and as a development consultant for alumni relations at the Times Square Academy.
Spence also has a wealth of coaching experience, which includes positions as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Brown University, assistant men’s basketball coach at Mitchell College and assistant men’s basketball coach at the Community College of Rhode Island. In 2002, he founded and directed an AAU basketball team and an after-school program for underprivileged youth in Providence, RI.
Spence, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in general studies and media/communications from Ithaca College, has been engaged in work that has involved youth, athletics and fundraising throughout his professional life.
Spence began his career as the Director of Recreation for Elmcor, a community youth organization in New York City. He also served as a recruitment officer for A Better Chance, a national organization that recruits talented disenfranchised youth for top-tier boarding schools, and as an admissions officer for the Hotchkiss School, a selective boarding school in Lakeville, CT. Other positions have included Director of Diversity at Moses Brown School, a private high school in Providence, and Diversity Manager at the Providence Journal Company.
Spence is a member of the National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors (NACDA) and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Edona Thaqi plays basketball at Fordham University. She graduated with her bachelor's degree this year with a major in economics and a minor in business administration. She will be pursuing her master's degree in media management this coming fall while using her extra year of eligibility to play basketball after tearing her ACL for the third time. She originally started at UConn Avery point (a junior college) then transferred to Fordham University for her final 3 years to continue her basketball career.
At Fordham, She is the Fordham women’s basketball social media intern, where she co host weekly vlogs (Keeks and E on eddies for Tea) with her teammate highlighting Fordham’s athletes as contributing members of the broader student body. She was also a part of the Women’s Sports Foundation & NBC Sports mentoring program this past year.
Mary: [00:00:00] Hi there, lovely money people. Welcome back to ' Your World, Your Money's "Sport's: The New Era of Wellness" special series. It's Mary again here, and I'm happy to be back with you all and continue our conversation around sports, mental health, equity, and money. Today we are diving into some real experiences and difficulties a university athlete has faced. A basketball athlete from Fordham University, Edona Thaqi, and university administrator and former university-level coach, Curtis Spence, are going to get into the thick of it, really zooming in on mental health and the gendered reality of sports. We want to keep talking how sports spend money and how those choices cost teams, fans, companies, schools, and of course athletes. Whether it costs them time, health, or, our specialty, money. Let's join our guest host today, Lauren, who played university basketball herself, and head right over to the conversation.
Mary, Nolan, and Laquita Ann: [00:01:13] Hi, I'm Mary. I'm Nolan. I'm Laquita Ann. We are your hosts, and this is 'Your World, Your Money.' We will be talking real money, with real people, in a real way. Because everyone deserves the opportunity and tools for freedom, financial or otherwise. 'Your World, Your Money' is brought to you by Hangar Studios, a New York city based recording studio and Global Thinking Foundation, a global nonprofit working toward financial freedom and equality for all.
Mary: [00:01:45] Edona Thaqi is a current university athlete attending Fordham University. Her major is economics with a minor in business administration. Coming from a Ukrainian immigrant family, Edona is also a first-generation university student. Curtis Spence joined New York University as assistant athletic director in the summer of 2014. And now, also serves as the department's diversity and inclusion designee. He was also the women's basketball coach at Brown University, assistant men's basketball coach at Mitchell College, and assistant men's basketball coach at the Community College of Rhode Island.
Lauren: [00:02:38] So Edona, thank you so much for being here. I'm really excited to hop into your basketball career. And I really wanted to ask you the question, how did you get started with basketball in general?
Edona: [00:02:48] Yeah, so it's definitely been quite a journey. First of all thanks for having me on this. My parents immigrated from Kosovo when they were young, you know. I was born and raised here, and I was in elementary school and one of my gym teachers saw, like I had potential, like, you know, my parents weren't really... being new to country and all that, they didn't really have the resources and all of those... Weren't really aware of what was around.
Edona: [00:03:12] So I got involved with basketball in elementary school. And since then, like I just had fell in love with the game. You know, it was happiness to me. You know, it was a way for me to... having my cultural differences and language barriers, it was just a way for me to, like, build those lifelong friendships and really connect with people on a different level through a sport. So, yeah, that's when I started playing basketball..
Lauren: [00:03:38] Amazing. So you played elementary, middle school, high school, and then now college. And you even did all the AU recruiting like everything like that?
Edona: [00:03:46] So I don't know if you want me to take you through the whole career - I could, but...
Lauren: [00:03:50] You mentioned that you are a first-generation college student. How did your experience and identity influence your journey with basketball? So you just mentioned how you were able to strengthen some of that language barrier that you experienced in as early as elementary school through the game. How did some of that come into play while you played division one basketball at Fordham?
Edona: [00:04:10] When I was younger, you know, I didn't really know that you could play division one basketball. I didn't know there was a D1, D2, D3, or that you could earn a scholarship. You know, my parents first came here... they didn't have- they started a whole new life here, you know? Like they didn't have the money, like all those means to really support me in that sense.
Edona: [00:04:29] You know, they always pushed for me and supported me, but I was very fortunate to run across an AAU coach who basically became my mentor and his name's coach Kay, he's from Stanford. And he really pushed me and helped me with every little thing to get to college.
Edona: [00:04:44] So at that point, I think seventh grade or eighth grade, I really started to devote my time to basketball because I saw that it was a vehicle I could use to be the first member of my family to graduate from college and earn a scholarship. My journey was a little quite different. And you know, I know I've talked to you just about my injuries, but I was a junior in high school and, you know, there's live periods as, you know, AAU. Like those July tournament's really, really big time for recruiting. And I tore my ACL for the first time, right before live period. So I was kind of off the radar for a minute. Schools that were having interest in me were no longer kind of showing interest.
Edona: [00:05:23] So, you know, I just looked at it as like senior year was a time for me to come back and prove myself again. So I come back a year later for my ACL, maybe a little bit too early. I don't know. But literally a year, a week before live period, again, unfortunately I missed the period. Again, I tear my ACL for the second time.
Edona: [00:05:42] So now all feels lost at this point, you know? The recruiting... being on the radar is just, everything was all lost. And I really, really started to lose hope. But this one coach, my mentor really kept my hopes up and was reaching out to so many coaches for me. So, you know, I really had to make some big decisions at that age.
Edona: [00:06:01] I'm like, 'I don't know what to do. I don't know what to think.' My parents didn't attend college and neither did my siblings. So, there's only so much that can help me in that sense, you know? And I was leaning a lot on my coach. And I was very, very fortunate to have him. And I decided, after I had torn my ACL, my senior year of high school, I decided to stay home to really devote my time to rehab and just get back mentally, physically, and all that.
Edona: [00:06:27] So I was at Yukon Stanford as a part-time student. And being a part-time student, it saved my eligibility. So, I was still able to have four years of eligibility. Then after that, I was able to find a junior college, Yukon Avery Point. So I went there for a year, played for a year, had a good season. Again, I ran into the issue of 'nobody has scholarships available.
Edona: [00:06:50] I was so upset. That was my goal and that'd been my lifelong goal since I was a little girl. I didn't want that to get in the way and let the 'the money, the scholarship'... I had worked so hard my whole life to become a D1 player. So my coach knew somebody from Fordham and I got in contact with Coach Gailey, who is my coach now and was just so, so welcoming.
Edona: [00:07:12] And I fell in love with the coaching staff, the school, my teammates. And I made a decision to walk on. So, I walked on, you know. I decided this is going to be an investment in my future. It was a little scary, daunting, cause I'm like, 'I don't know what I'm getting into of just like from the walk on perspective and even financially'.
Edona: [00:07:33] So I decided that... with, obviously with my parents, I decided that I was going to make this decision to walk on. And ever since it's just been... I'm happy I did it. I earned a scholarship at Fordham, and it's been a great experience so far.
Lauren: [00:07:49] So Edona quick question for our audience, too. What is the importance of walking on? Like why is that such a significant decision to make in collegiate basketball? When you decide to [00:08:00] walk onto a team. What kind of risk are you taking in that sense?
Edona: [00:08:03] Yeah. I mean, so a lot of times, I feel like when people hear 'walk on, it's like, 'Oh, they're not good enough. Or 'they weren't really recruited'. But there's so many stories out there that you just don't know why, why is this person walking on, you know? And when I was taking on that role, I kind of looked at it as no job was too big or too small for me to take on.
Edona: [00:08:25] So I took on that challenge that I knew, 'okay, I have to work just as hard or maybe harder than the rest of my teammates' because of the position I am in as a walk on. And you hear so many stories about different programs, how walk-ons aren't necessarily treated right. But I was so lucky to fall into a program where I was treated just as a scholarship player.
Edona: [00:08:51] And, you know, Coach Gailey... the playing time... the coach is going to play the best five as you know like you played college basketball, but she treated me just as her own daughter. And that was something that was so important to me as...being a walk-on, having that experience as well, but still loving the process and wanting to work hard. Because I knew coach would reward those no matter if you're titled as a walk-on or a scholarship player, if that makes sense.
Lauren: [00:09:19] Absolutely. Absolutely. So, shifting gears just a little bit. Edona, aside from the language barrier and the cultural barrier growing up in an immigrant family, I know that you just talked a little bit about the injuries that you experienced. If I'm counting correctly, you experienced three ACL tears?
Edona: [00:09:35] Yeah, unfortunately. This senior year. It was my last year and I tore my ACL in October. I had surgery on October 26th. So, I'm kind of, almost, fully cleared but not yet. So, I'm still rehabbing. Still doing all of that. And because of that, I felt like my senior year was lost and I worked so hard, and I just felt like I never got to see it through.
Edona: [00:09:58] So I decided to give it one more shot and come back for a grad year. Just because I knew I couldn't live with myself if I had let an injury take over the rest of my career.
Lauren: [00:10:09] So when I hear that, right, like financially and mentally... the amount that must weigh on one individual, how did you balance that? These are three major surgeries. Two, if I'm correct, happened before you were a collegiate athlete and then the last one happened while you were in a major year of your athletic career. Mentally, if you would like to share, how was that? And then financially, how are you able to balance the two?
Edona: [00:10:38] Right. When I think about my first ACL, second ACL...I feel like I was in such a different mindset as just like, my maturity level. I wasn't as mature. I didn't really understand that there was so much I could do and learn in that year, aside from basketball. I think I had become so wrapped up in the sport.
Edona: [00:11:00] And this year really proved that to me, when it was taken away from me. And I really, really worked so hard over the summer... and I have to say, mentally, it was probably the worst - one of the worst years for me. Just because I was so devastated, so upset. You know, I really started to have a lot of identity issues and like, just self-worth...
Edona: [00:11:20] It was weird-I had so much support from my teammates, my coaches. They were always checking in on me, always calling me, sending me stuff. But yet I was the only one going through it. Day by day. Rehab by rehab. I was the one who was dealing with it mentally, physically.
Edona: [00:11:38] It was just a battle. And when I found out about my third ACL, literally all I could see was an uphill battle. Just like another mountain in front of me. And I was just like, 'damn it, again?' Like I have to fight through this again. And before I even made the decision to come back... I think I had to like, kind of heal mentally just to - I didn't know if I could do it.
Edona: [00:11:59] I didn't know if I had it in me to come back from a third ACL. Like it was just...it took a toll on me mentally. You know, to be honest, like I'm still in denial a little bit - eight months, nine months later. You know, it was just - I'm still going through rehab and I'm like, 'wow, I'm really in this.
Edona: [00:12:16] But it's just the consistency and patience, honestly. What I've really learned most throughout this journey is just not being afraid to lean on people a little bit more. You know, I was the person who wanted to tough it out. I was strong enough, wanted to put up this front. But no, this injury literally knocked me down and I needed that support. And I'm happy I leaned on to my coaches, to my teammates because you can't do this alone. It's not something you can do alone.
Lauren: [00:12:45] Absolutely.
Edona: [00:12:45] Yeah, that's from the mental side.
Curtis: [00:12:47] Can I jump in?
Lauren: [00:12:48] Please do.
Curtis: [00:12:49] So can you be specific on what kind of things that you had to do to get through this?
Edona: [00:12:55] Yeah. I remember like, the first few weeks of the first month after surgery, walking into the gym was just difficult for me. Just seeing my teammates practice and knowing that it was my last year. It was at the end of my career. I don't know like it was just so many thousand thoughts running through my head... and I used to be stubborn. I didn't want to talk to anybody about it. I didn't want to open up about my feelings. And I let myself be a little bit more vulnerable. You know, I let myself cry in my coach's office. I opened up about my feelings and I started to see a sports psychologist who was really, really helpful throughout the process. And, you know, I started journaling thoughts and journaling what I had been through. You know, sometimes you go through life and you don't realize all the things you've been through until you really see it out on paper.
Edona: [00:13:42] And I was like, 'wow, okay, I've been through three ACL's'. Like, 'I can do this'. Just from that mental side, I really tried to keep myself busy. And I started taking on the Fordham women's basketball social media, you know, to really distract myself. There was just a [00:14:00] lot of things I had to do to distract myself because let me tell you, my mind was wandering in a thousand different directions of 'what's going to happen next?'
Curtis: [00:14:10] I''m sure. Thank you for that.
Lauren: [00:14:13] Yes. Thank you, Edona. Curtis, a quick question for you. As someone who has experienced your mentorship, I know that something that's important to you is that just as much as you want to help an athlete or a former athlete, you also want to learn from that athlete. So, I know it was really important for you to be on an episode with a young athlete, Edona.
Lauren: [00:14:32] What is it like from the coach's perspective? For someone who's been in coaching for as long as you have, to hear a fellow athlete and their experience mentally on the court? Do you have any stories to share what that has been like at your level, Curtis?
Curtis: [00:14:46] I think the most important piece here is to really, to listen. Cause each one of the stories or experiences are different. Like Edona was saying. Like the walk-on experience is different for everybody. Because some players don't get any opportunities as a walk-on and some do. I'd like to know what happens with her as a grad student? Does she have to pay as a grad student? Is she in a program - what's her major? You know, is that helping her out to sustain it financially? Things of that nature. So, yeah, for me, it's more trying to be student-athlete centered and focusing on what the needs of the individual are. I learned a long time ago that, yeah, you might have 15 players on your team. But you can't treat them all the same. You might want to, and you think it's fair. But you have to sometimes...
Curtis: [00:15:36] Some allow you to put your arm around them. Some won't allow you. Some will allow you to yell. Some won't. Some need a certain type of attention that others don't. And you just, as the coach, it's your responsibility to try to learn them. It's'them teach you'. Cause I don't have any problems with them teaching me what it is going to take for me to get to them.
Curtis: [00:15:58] And then what are the resources that I can connect them with? Or that they need to be connected with at the university? And that's what she was talking about. That she's doing. That's why I asked that question specifically about what, what does she go through? So, yeah...and you know, around the mental health piece...It's that, besides the people that are mental health professionals, most people are still learning about it, you know? How to be of assistance? What are triggers? And things of that nature, you know?
Curtis: [00:16:28] So if you're willing to be sensitive in that capacity... and willing to learn and be vulnerable, as she said. I think that's so crucial. So crucial. You know, you can probably be successful with all the students. But I think the last thing I'll say is that sometimes it's not me, you know. I'm not the one that can connect with her or him. But I might know someone that can connect with him or her. (Someone) that has the right words for them to get them to where they [00:17:00] need to be.
Lauren: [00:17:01] Okay. Here's another question for you. What's the reality for students and families seeking financial support to pursue sports at the university level?
Curtis: [00:17:10] Yeah, I think that's an interesting question. Division One and Division Two, to have some form of scholarship - and not all the same, not everyone gets the same amount of money - that's determined by the coaching staff, their budget, et cetera, the players' abilities and things of that nature. Division Three... and also, I should say Juco, which is Avery. She went to Connecticut. Avery is JUCO. You know, junior college, they have a form of scholarship, too. Whether it's, you know, to pay for your tuition room and board or to pay for your room and board or your meals and things of that nature. And usually it's a partial scholarship as well. Division Three is supposed to be merit-based. So based on your aptitude, your abilities scholastically, and as determined by what your needs
Curtis: [00:18:00] are financially. Schools have different ways of giving you support, whether it's grants or compiling loans that you have to pay back later or tapping into endowments based on what your skill sets are. So if you, for example, if you're an ethnic student and you participate in D-I, or something like that, there might be a scholarship that's part of the Martin Luther King scholarship. I'm just making stuff up, but those kinds of things... They have scholarships based on where people come from. So someone from the alumni association, wanting to see someone getting an experience from their hometown...so if someone applies from their hometown, they could apply for that scholarship.
Curtis: [00:18:44] There's different ways for you to be creative in getting the resources that are needed. But at the Division Threelevel, it's usually based on what your aptitude is, what your contribution is to the school. So if you're musically inclined or athletically inclined, then they have different kinds of resources that are available for those students. But it usually starts with your GPA and your SAT scores.
Lauren: [00:19:10] So tying it all together in a sentence, looking to Edona's experience. We're hearing how she had to find a balance or identify imbalance. What are some firsthand disparities or imbalances that you've noticed, Curtis as well, coaching both men's and women's teams for the collegiate and high school levels? These can be imbalances for the athletes or administration. I know one imbalance could be resources. What are some things that you've noticed personally, or professionally?
Curtis: [00:19:36] Yeah, that's the biggest one. And that's pervasive throughout our society. The resources that are available. But I think it's also, once we get past the resources - and that came up this year with the discrepancies in weight rooms that we saw during the March madness. The differences in the resources that were allocated for the men and the women. To me just doesn't make sense at that level to make those kinds of differences and those disparities. It just doesn't make sense to me, but I'm not at that level of making the decision.
Curtis: [00:20:10] But I think the other thing is just that it's just a cultural thing, you know? And I'm changing in my perspective and philosophy about it, too. It's just that we think that the men are more entertaining, you know? If you want to be more entertained or something like that. But when you sit down and watch or you participate in some of the sports and you take out certain elements and just enjoy it for the richness, the beauty of it, it's all the same.
Curtis: [00:20:38] Just maybe the ball doesn't go as far as softball and hardball. But at the senior level, at the elite level, it's really fundamentally sound and most of them are just as good. So it's just... it's the resources. There's levels to it based on endowments or alumni involvement, things of that nature. And the same thing with the lower leagues to high school. And, um, little league it's all the same.
Curtis: [00:21:06] There's a culture shift that has to take place where the resources are balanced. You know, people are just as excited - and it seems like it's changing now. I thought that, you know, these last two years, especially through the pandemic and what the women's soccer has done and their whole initiative. It's just been just dope. Super dope.
Lauren: [00:21:25] Hmm. So, Edona, if there was me and a bunch of my teammates in this room right now, and we heard about - we got into a conversation about men's disparity versus women's disparity. A lot of feelings come up. You know, because it goes back to elementary school, right? And you can't play on certain teams already.
Lauren: [00:21:41] Like they look at you and you're already expected to not be as good, right? Like what, what feelings come up for you when you hear something like that? And then how can we tie those feelings to this overall idea of the financial necessities that need to be put towards women's soccer, women's basketball, women's softball at the professional level?
Edona: [00:22:00] Yeah. I mean, obviously there's always a lot of emotions around that topic. It's very frustrating and it's unfortunate that there has been some changes, but not enough. You know, it's always be, keep getting to the point of not enough. You know, there needs to be more. There needs to be more. Sometimes, when I think of it, especially with the NCAA college women's basketball, like that was kind of the icing on the cake.
Lauren: [00:22:22] Yeah.
Edona: [00:22:22] And it's unfortunate. Because, whenever you're looking on social media, Twitter, whatever, you see some female athlete killing whatever event or sport. And I think a lot of the times it's highlighted 'woman', you know. And it's almost as if the athlete is neglected and it's like, why aren't we all looked at as athletes?
Edona: [00:22:44] Why does it have to be distinguished as 'woman athlete does this'? And that is just like...it's almost as if our talents are not almost noticed because of our gender. And it's really frustrating. And [00:23:00] I feel like a lot of people around the world who are competing at that high level... I can't imagine how they feel, you know, being on that stage and that spotlight.
Curtis: [00:23:08] That's what I'm talking about as far as the culture change. That's the culture piece that has to change there.
Edona: [00:23:15] Yeah, definitely.
Curtis: [00:23:16] I mean. So, for example, I'll just - you talk about being vulnerable. I'll be vulnerable because Lauren knows this. Years ago, I thought that in order for equity to take place in women's basketball, you had to lower the rim. But, after talking to Lauren, I know that's a stupid thing to say or even think, you know.
Lauren: [00:23:35] I forgot about that conversation. Could you tell me - it was that you told me that they should lower the rim. So that more people would watch women's basketball. So that more women could -
Curtis: [00:23:48] So that they could dunk.
Edona: [00:23:50] They pushed back the three point line. I'm not sure if you guys heard about that. Yeah. So, they actually, so now our three point line is the same as the men's. So, I guess there's some small steps there, but yeah. I definitely would say it's, it's frustrating when your first identity is like, as a woman instead of an athlete.
Curtis: [00:24:10] Yeah. Yeah. I'm just trying to support what she was saying is that we're - we've come a long way and we still have a lot more to do. We still have a lot more growth to do, and those that are making the decision at the NCAA or even in the WNBA and at the other levels, the lower, the low league levels too. I don't know if it's called low league, but you know what I mean? The Biddy levels, you have to change the mindset there as well. Just like you helped me change that - this stupid comment. That's a stupid thought. You know, but it took you to tell me that.
Lauren: [00:24:45] No, I love that. And Edona, to bring it back to you, too, and then we'll pivot a little bit. But it's as if linguistically the concept of woman doesn't exist in the word athlete, right? Like they say athlete, not male athlete. So it is very interesting how financially, linguistically, mental health wise... you know, where this conversation, where the through line is with all of this conversation?
Edona: [00:25:07] Definitely it all ties together, for sure. Just from like the mental, the financial - especially in college basketball and, um, you know, me just kind of experiencing it as an athlete. It's unfair, it's unfortunate, but, um, that's the world we live in and hopefully the changes will continue to happen. Cause there's definitely been small steps, but there definitely needs to be more change.
Lauren: [00:25:29] And what do you want to see change, Edona?
Edona: [00:25:31] I actually saw something on Twitter the other day that aggravated me a little bit. And it was just...so, as you know, you played in the AAU circuit. I think it was like the EYBL teams, and somebody had posted a picture of the males receiving so much more gear than the women. And it was like, 'what makes them that much better to receive this much more stuff than the women?'. And that just ties it back to the NCAA college basketball tournament with the [00:26:00] five, ten dumbbells that I have in my own house.
Edona: [00:26:04] It's crazy. You know, especially at that elite level, you should be treated as an elite athlete, no matter if you're female or a male, you know. And I feel like the change in just that aspect, like I even think of our games, Fordham Women's basketball. Where our men's team has not won many games. We won the Atlantic 10 championship, and yet we still weren't having really many fans at our games. You know, it was just like, what do we need to do to prove that we were very well deserving of the credit and the viewership and all of that stuff?
Edona: [00:26:41] So. It's hard because so many people can make the arguments of, 'oh, women don't do anything fancy. They don't dunk. They don't do this and that'. It's hard sometimes, like, I don't even know what to say to that because it's just like, 'I can't dunk'. But, um, I think we played pretty good basketball, you know?
Lauren: [00:27:00] course, of course. I mean, that's, that's another conversation, but just this idea of - Curtis, you were getting into it - the way we value the sport, right? It doesn't always need to be about entertainment. It can be about skill, like the skillset shared between female teammates. If you count the level of passes that are made in comparison to a men's game, why isn't that interesting? Why isn't being selfless interesting? You know what I mean? So it is very...
Curtis: [00:27:25] Yeah, exactly. When you look at the NCAA playoffs - and I watched the playoffs for both the men and the women - you're absolutely right. It's a fundamental game. The comradery, the bonding, the relationships are all there. The game is just as beautiful. You know, just as engaging the same thing. I mean, this year, for the first time, I really watched a women's softball, the whole world series. And I was like, 'wow', I was pretty blown away. I would love to have been at the game because it seemed as if there was as much excitement at the game as there... I would never have thought that they had those crowds, they were sold out and it was just really exciting. But again, it's going to boil down, Lauren, to the cultural change that is as pervasive as possible from the lower schools.
Curtis: [00:28:17] And if you're going to ask me about what do I think we should do? I think we have to do this stuff in the high schools, in the middle schools, you know. We have to teach about mental health and how it's okay. The financial things and managing money and all those kinds of things are, uh, needed earlier in our lives. And not just for the affluent, but for all of the young people. So, I think core curriculum probably needs to be examined. What is core curriculum, how it's defined. So that's my response to that.
Lauren: [00:28:49] Mm. So, Curtis, a question I want to ask you is, especially from a black male perspective, understanding how racially a lot of the sports provide [00:29:00] resources... so yes, of course, culturally, as Edona got into. But then also racially, like how does that level of community create opportunity and access for people who wouldn't have that financial safety net otherwise? And also, is that pressure as necessary as it is, and how have you seen that come out over the course of your career?
Curtis: [00:29:22] Yeah, I mean, that's a really good question. And you can go both ways. Because obviously in some of that at the elite level, which is what we're talking about. If you can get a scholarship to Fordham or to some of these schools, that's elite level. And as Edona was saying, if you're playing Division Three, you're still an elite player. But there's so much pressure for some of these athletes to participate, both on the women's side and the men side, you know. Just athletes. Period. As y'all been saying. But the thing is, I don't really have the answer because a lot of the parents that are [00:30:00] putting their children in these situations are living vicariously through their children to get the financial aid or scholarship or to become a pro or whatever it is, you know, to be at that level.
Curtis: [00:30:13] And so there's, there's difficulties there. And then telling them the real deal about how many of those select opportunities there are goes both ways. It can be deflating to the young person who's dreaming, who's - that's their dream to be a Division One athlete or to be a professional. And you're telling them the odds are one in 100,000.
Curtis: [00:30:40] So do they need the dream anymore? You know it's tough. If you look at it from the financial situation, some of these programs, afterschool programs are building their afterschool programs and providing opportunities for the students to, to test better. So - and that's still the requirement for [00:31:00] which to get into these schools. So that's a positive. So if you have an AAU program and your AAU program has a tournament, you bring in resources into the community and you have tournaments. You're selling out hotel rooms, and new restaurants and other places are benefiting. So... it's a double-edged sword, but I just think it has to be in perspective in some way that the young people are not exploited and taken advantage of.
Lauren: [00:31:27] Mm, so in my head, I just had this like graphic of a cycle where sports puts stress on finances. Finances put stress on the athlete, and then the athlete is affected by both, which then affects their mental strains. So, it's really, this is really interesting.
Curtis: [00:31:45] What about the family? The parents... The parents are bugging out, too. You know, like are the parents engaged and participating? I've had two AAU programs that I built. And I know some of those students that were pointing for me, I was their surrogate [00:32:00] parent. Their parent didn't know where that kid was until they came back on Sunday night. And didn't care. But you know, again, it might be because they recognized that we were an upstanding program and we were enriching the young person's experience by taking them out of their community. So, you know, how do you look at it?
Lauren: [00:32:21] That's where it goes back to that question of community and like the cycle, you know? Should a 13 year old have that much pressure? That the only way they can have an education is to play a sport?
Curtis: [00:32:32] But it's not just athletics, though. It's not just athletics. I mean, we have people living vicariously through children in the art world, too. Or, you know, to become doctors and lawyers or whatever. It's the same thing.
Lauren: [00:32:47] Absolutely. And that's a good point, Curtis. So, I have two more questions for you guys. Mental health is a big conversation. I know you guys have been touching on it already , right now, in sports, but what other conversations are we missing? What should we be talking about when it comes to shifting parity and equality and how sports spends money?
Lauren: [00:33:06] So, for me, when I read this question I immediately thought of the Olympics and this conversation going on about gender. Not just gender inequity, but inequity of gender within one construct of gender. So, I think of the different black women who are running track and how they naturally have high testosterone levels and society is saying that they cannot perform at the Olympic level because of the way their body naturally produces that. Because of the way their body naturally is.
Lauren: [00:33:34] So for me, that's like one example of how that's what we're missing. Like, why aren't these conversations being talked about in relation to mental health? Like, we're not just talking about athletes, I'm talking about people with feelings and human beings with an identity. But are there any topics that, you know, that rub you a certain way or that should be in the spotlight more often than they are?
Edona: [00:33:55] For me, I've just, I've only had my experiences and I think mental health when it comes to sport identity is a big one for me. You know, that's what I could really just touch on just from my experience. And that's something I struggled with a lot this year, you know, realizing that basketball was not who I am. It's what I do. And I failed to realize that, like, I'm still a great teammate. I'm a friend. I'm a sister. I'm a daughter. You know, I'm all these things. And that... Even for like people who graduate or go out into the real world, I feel like most people kind of need that help of like, 'whatever 20 plus years of my life for this one sport, how do I navigate now through the real world'?
Edona: [00:34:43] How do I find my next passion? And that's where I really struggle. I'm not graduated fully, but just like, what's, what's my passion now? You know, I love basketball, but I need to find something else to kind of keep me distracted and still know that I'm still worthy of who I am as a person, just from what I bring to the table and not just what I bring as an athlete on the court.
Edona: [00:35:06] And I think that's a big topic for people who graduate and - just navigating into the real world because... you know, I've talked to friends who graduated before me, and it's tough when you have that competitive spirit and you're no longer competing in the way you used to. You're no longer on the grind, on the routine of like practicing three plus hours a day and have a set schedule. You know, 'lift, conditioning, this is when I'm going to eat'. Like everything planned out day by day. Even in the summer, I was like, okay, what do I do now? Like I was so used to this routine and schedule. And that took a toll on me mentally. Just trying to navigate - even in the summer. Forget about finishing college.
Edona: [00:35:51] You know, I find myself kind of thinking about the future a lot, and I think about like, what am I going to do when I'm done with basketball? And it's a scary thought to me. So, I think that's something that's just could be talked about more of how to deal with those type of feelings. And what's a way you can still kind of feel you're, I guess, a part of a sport or a team environment, or what career path you want take?
Lauren: [00:36:14] Mm, no. I Love that. Something, uh, that we're going to get into in a few episodes is more so like, even women at the professional level financially, who play for - are playing abroad, right. They still have to consider, 'well, what comes after this'? Right? Basketball comes to an end and that's a really scary thought. But financially, how can you make sure that you're sound after this experience, right? Even when it's a phenomenal one. Especially as a woman.
Edona: [00:36:43] That's so true. Even financially, I'm like, you know, we get stipends and all this stuff. But it's like, 'okay, once I'm done with college, there's no more of that support'. You know, I have to find a job. And sometimes as you know, especially in this COVID pandemic, it's hard finding jobs. So, there's so many stresses that are added on financially. Let alone, you know, just leaving your sport.
Curtis: [00:37:05] I mean, I just think that's why I do what I do. You know, because the growth and development of young people is so crucial and important. And as an athlete, if I could change anything, I would change the culture of coaching. And what do I mean by that? And you and I have talked about this a little bit, it's that I think that if you're going to select a person for a team, then they need to play. You know, every person needs to play. And that doesn't mean that they need to play during the championship game. During the last minute when the game is on the line. Let's be real. Everybody wants to win.
Curtis: [00:37:41] But I would love to have examined. If I was younger... if I was you guys' age, I would love to have done... I know everybody likes data and research. I would love to see how many of the students that participated in programs, that didn't play but stuck it out are giving back to the school in [00:38:00] fundraising and development? And those that did play... what's the difference? So that's one thing I would change. I would change the culture of coaching. And also in line of changing the culture of coaching, I think we need to change, especially at some of these elite schools - and I know coaches don't really talk about it, but they're doing it at the track level because track and field is so large. That you have two sessions of practices. So if your schedule is really hectic and you can't make that 7:00 AM practice, there needs to be another practice that you can make, that you can feel part of the team. And the coach needs to make that happen.
Curtis: [00:38:40] But that's not the mindset. The mindset here's the practice, or here are the players that we're going to fit. And to this my practice schedule. But I'm saying, no, we need to have more student athletes that are going to go into the medical field because we need more doctors. We need more physical therapists. We need more students that are athletes that are dealing with and know, and understand mental health so they can talk to those new athletes.
Curtis: [00:39:04] So in order to do that, we've got to recruit those kinds of students. But you're not going to recruit them for most athletic teams because the schedules are not going to fit the practice schedules. It's not going to fit the game schedule. So those are the two things for coaching athletes that need to, in my opinion, if I had the PhD platform or whatever, and I had more years in the game, I would probably try to challenge.
Curtis: [00:39:30] And then on the other level, are some of the things that I talked about earlier. That the core curriculum in high school needs to change a little bit to include discussions about mental health and that it's not a stigma. And also about financial health. People need to know earlier. Everybody, all the young people need to know earlier how to manage their finances. How to balance a checkbook, things of that nature. And those are not things that are done in all of our [00:40:00] schools. So, that's what it is. Those are four basic things that I know off the top of my head.
Lauren: [00:40:07] Absolutely. That's a great transition into our closing question. From a current university player and university administrators perspective, what are some steps athletes, families, universities, and everyone else can take to fight for better changes in parity, financial literacy and overall health?
Edona: [00:40:25] From the student athlete perspective of, you know, whenever you're deciding a school to go to, really do your research. Educate yourself. Because as you know, Lauren, you've played on basketball in college, there's so many different stories and programs who will treat you as an athlete before a person. There's schools and coaches who don't care. As long as you're performing on the court. They don't care how your mental health is or how your wellbeing is. And that was something that was so important to me and my family. When I [00:41:00] visited Fordham, I felt the family connection and just like, how genuine, you know, Coach Gailey was and the rest of the coaching staff. And how much they cared about me as a person and my life after basketball.
Edona: [00:41:12] And even financially that's important because you want people who are going to be in your corner when it comes to finding a job or dealing with finances. Like I know if I had to reach out to one of my coaches right now, like 'how do I go about this'? You know, just some advice or mentorship. Hands down, they would help me right away. And I was very fortunate to be in that situation because they really pushed me, not only as a player, but as a person of. Just in terms of being on top of my academics and like making sure my mental health is great and all that stuff.
Edona: [00:41:48] And I think that's the most important part for like a student athlete. If you're playing a sport in college it's just really doing the research, educating yourself. Because you know, sometimes all the fancy lights and the big locker rooms, the big gyms... like that's not what's going to be your friend at the end of the day when you're having a tough day of practice or whatever, you know.
Edona: [00:42:09] Who's going to be there when you're really down on your knees and you're just, you can't get yourself back up? And for me, I saw that firsthand experience this year when I was, literally, like down on my knees. Just felt like I couldn't get back up being so devastated from my injury. And I just had that support from my coaches, teammates, family, you know, all of that stuff. So yeah...
Curtis: [00:42:32] I think that's awesome. I just say ditto to that. And I think that should go as further back to when you got the little kid and he picked up the ball and he threw it all the way across the field. When you thought he was going to be a number one major league baseball player. Make sure you check that coach out. Know who that coach is. What are their interests? I was going to say like Biggie Smalls says. But you know, what are they interested in you for? Is it just to exploit you? If that's not it... If they're not interested in networking and understanding who you are as a person, what your skill sets are and how they can be of help, then you need to find a different coach.
Curtis: [00:43:11] And I think that the parents. I know some parents don't have the time to do it and pass it on. Well find somebody that has an interest in that person. Whether it's a guidance counselor or another family member or somebody that knows what the skill sets of that person are before they get into that little league team or soccer team or whatever it is. And then certainly the same thing goes throughout high school. People need to be engaged in their life.
Lauren: [00:43:37] Hmm. Yeah.
Edona: [00:43:39] And just like another thing to add on to that. And when, you know, I'm sure you felt this too, Lauren, just as a player... like when, you know a coach really cares about you and is committed to you, you want to perform for that coach. You know, you want to do well and that brings the best out of you. You know, that's making you 1% better every day and being the best version of yourself.
Edona: [00:44:00] Because if I don't like my coach, why am I going to want to work hard? You know? So I think that's such a key piece. Because you're seeing these people every single day. So, so the next student athletes, wherever you're looking for a school, go to that visit, go meet the coaches, see how the players interact with each other.
Edona: [00:44:18] What's their culture like? Do the coaches hold each other accountable? Are certain players allowed to slide on some stuff? It's just, the culture is so important and that's what Fordham offered me. It was like, I just had that great team culture, not as a player, but as a person as well. So that was really important to me and I'm very thankful for it because I wouldn't be the person I am today without all that I've gone through.
Lauren: [00:44:45] We'll close here. And I feel like the word that I am - we're going to walk away thinking of is 'engaged', right? Like just engage in your finance. Engage in your sport. Engage in your community. Engage in the different ways that you can make an impact. So I really appreciate you guys being here, Edona and Curtis. You guys are brilliant. Really interesting conversation. I really enjoyed it.
Curtis: [00:45:07] Thank you so much.
Edona: [00:45:08] Thank you so much for having us. I really had a good time.
Mary: [00:45:12] We hope you enjoyed listening in with us. These conversations often get put to the side, perhaps until March madness or the Olympics or American football season rolls around. So here in our special summer series on The New Era of Wellness and Sports, we hope you are enjoying diving into the depths of a conversation we often only begin to scratch the surface of.
Mary: [00:45:37] As always, if you have any thoughts or comments on the episode or ideas for what you would love to hear from us, drop us a line, note, wave, or even a virtual hug email@example.com. Thanks, Lovelies. Stay safe out there, and happy money-making.
Mary, Nolan, and Laquita Ann: [00:46:01] You've been listening in with 'Your world, Your Money'. You can find us @ ywymepodcast.com and stay updated on Instagram @GlobalThinkingFoundationUSA. Be sure to rate and review us, and you can reach us with questions or thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again, to Hangar Studios and Global Thinking Foundation.
Mary, Nolan, and Laquita Ann: [00:46:28] Thanks friends. Happy moneymaking. We'll see you next time.