Scott Pioli stepped away from the Atlanta Falcons after five seasons as the team’s assistant general manager.
While he said at the time he was going to pursue other opportunities, Pioli hasn’t yet taken on a new full-time job.
But some of Pioli’s current and past efforts endure, and for those he’s being recognized.
NCAA recognition for diversity and inclusion
On Tuesday, the NCAA announced that its Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee is recognizing Pioli as a Champion of Diversity and Inclusion for his continued works in “supporting ethnic minorities and other underrepresented populations in athletics.”
Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips was previously recognized.
Generally low key, Pioli is starting to garner attention and plaudits for his efforts to support minorities and women.
In NFL circles, his support helped San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers get hired, and former offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan credits Pioli’s support with saving his life when he was struggling as a closeted gay man in NFL locker rooms.
In a story on the NCAA’s website, Pioli said people in his childhood — an African-American schoolteacher, his best friend’s gay older brother and his older sisters who were talented athletes but missed out on the Title IX era that would have provided a college athletic scholarship like he received — all played a role in opening his mind and heart to diversity and inclusion not just as ideas, but as practices.
“I entered this world the way I am, a white male, so I have enjoyed white male privilege my whole life,” Pioli said. “However, since I was a young child, I have been incredibly blessed to have some pretty significant moments in my life that opened my eyes.”
‘His efforts and impact have gone largely unrecognized’
Pioli has been walking the walk for a while.
“His efforts and impact have gone largely unrecognized — in no small part because Scott does not seek out recognition or even acknowledgment of his work,” said Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s secretary of state. “Yet he has been doing this work quietly for decades.
“Nearly every day, Scott finds a way to use his network and position to help diversify the sports industry.”
Benson and Pioli are both board members of RISE, the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, the group started by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who came under fire recently for hosting a big-money fundraiser for President Donald Trump.
Through RISE, Pioli leads a program at Morehouse, a historically black men’s college in Georgia, that educates college and professional athletes about civil rights advocacy and how to use their voice. He also helped start RISE to Vote, which registers college and professional athletes to vote and encourages them how to be civically engaged.
He also has funded college scholarships designed for women, people of color and first-generation college students, and his Scott Pioli & Family Fund for Women Football Coaches and Scouts provides financial assistance to women pursuing careers in that field.
‘Afraid to jump in the water’
Pioli admits he grew into his advocacy and understands other white men might be afraid to do so — that they’ve told inappropriate jokes before, or speaking out just seems scary.
But if they move past that, they can be part of the solution.
“As crazy and counterintuitive as this may sound, there are people who look like me who are afraid to jump in the water. For all of their strength, all of their power, all of their confidence, there is a fear,” Pioli said. “Was I always as thoughtful, as willing to be supportive, as willing to openly be an advocate, an ally? No, I wasn’t. Did I engage in conversations or situations at times that I am not proud of? Absolutely.
“I was very conflicted at times because as a human, you want acceptance from your peers and contemporaries.”
He was able to take that first step in the right direction.
“When you’re elevated to a platform to hopefully make a social impact and make an educational impact, you inject that into your daily life by the way you work in your daily life, by mentoring people that work completely different than you, that look completely different than you,” Pioli said. “Because of the reputation, people in those communities that are marginalized say, ‘Hey, this guy really does care,’ so people will come to me.
“If you allow this work to be exposed a little bit more, it makes other people who look like me ask questions and start to become more comfortable with it.”
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