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Panel discussion highlights new degree program and addresses the question of athletes as activists

December 14, 2017

Shamila Khohestani (center), first captain of the Afghan women’s national soccer team, speaks at a School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution and Center for Sport Management panel discussion exploring roles for athletes in conflict resolution. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Panel discussion highlights new degree program and addresses the question of athletes as activists

The role that athletes play in conflict resolution was addressed during a two-hour forum earlier this month at Merten Hall on the Fairfax Campus.

Hosted by Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution and moderated by S-CAR undergraduate director and professor Mara Schoeny, the panel discussion was the first event of the new minor in Sport and Conflict Resolution program, created by S-CAR and Mason’s Center for Sport Management.

About 50 Mason students, faculty and staff in the audience heard thoughts on how athletes play an important role in shaping opinions of fans.

In introducing the panelists, S-CAR dean Kevin Avruch noted the emergence of the field of sports and conflict and its rapid growth.

“This minor brings about a field of study that often goes overlooked,” he said.

Some of the highlights from the panel discussion included:

  • “Athletes have a responsibility to stand for what is right, even at the cost of their jobs,” said Michael Tabassi, vice president of the World Traditional Karate-do Foundation. “Icons across all fields of sport have a responsibility of bringing people together.”
  • Anya Alvarez, former professional golfer and now a contributor for ESPN West, suggested athlete activism can have a role in shedding light on a variety of civic ills, including gender inequality in America. Since sports have been historically male-dominated activities, she said, it has been more difficult for women’s sports to receive the coverage or achieve the level of quality of men’s sports.
  • While competition during contests can be furious, “when you are competing you forget about your differences,” said Shamila Kohestani, former captain of the Afghanistan national women’s soccer team and winner of the 2006 ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage Award. The idea of sports bringing people together from around the world gave her the desire to inspire young athletes at home.
  • Athletes should advocate for early opportunities for children—particularly, girls—to play, said Avril Ramierz Santiago, executive director of Futbol 4 Ellas, a nonprofit that teaches life skills on and off the soccer pitch to young women. Early opportunities are crucial in the development of children, she said.


—Gunar Frazier is a senior global affairs major.