The Ultimate Shame of Discrimination in Sports

There’s been a wave of discrimination and harassment allegations against major companies like Amazon, McDonald’s and Pinterest, and sports organizations such as the USA Gymnastics. In this month alone the commissioner of the Women’s National Soccer League stepped down over alleged misconduct and Raiders head coach, Jon Gruden, resigned over discriminating emails.

The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association recently engaged Syntrio Lighthouse Hotline services to provide players with access to a 24-hour anonymous hotline and web service for reporting abuse.

It is tragic when discrimination occurs in the sporting world or any other arena, but it’s compounded by even more shame because systemic abuse is preventable.

Industry Leaders and Best Practices

Innovative leaders are proactive about building high-performance cultures, and there are plenty of positive examples. Customers like the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals have been preemptive about providing employees with our anonymous hotline service and the Cubs have taken their program a step further with our online harassment prevention training.

These industry forerunners have adopted strategies and solutions that provide their leaders with visibility, awareness and accountability, and they benefit from early warning signals that help them avert public relations disasters and negative financial consequences.

Following are best practices to consider when evaluating and developing your continuous feedback and response strategy for your sporting industry organization, franchise or players association:


Strong leadership in the sporting world must occur on and off the field. It defines and strengthens your culture over time, and oftentimes, an effective leader succeeds by following best practices. However, there are also times that knowing the warning signs of ineffective management is just as important. A highly effective leadership team does not simply come together on its own, it takes time and a big picture view to form and lead a great team. Setting clear goals at the organization, function and individual levels encourages exceptional results by giving everyone something to rally around and celebrate.

Mission, Vision and Values

Shared values define the key beliefs and aspirations that form the core of your culture. Your mission communicates the purpose of your organization, your vision statement provides insight into what your organization hopes to achieve or become in the future, and your values statement reflects your core principles and ethics.

Successful sports organizations also strengthen their mission with every generation because all stakeholders are hungry for purpose and meaning in their work. Your code of conduct is a unique cornerstone for driving responsible actions that align with goals and expectations of proper conduct, all while minimizing risk. Getting employees, athletes and others to rally behind your mission leads to new levels of passion and performance.

Listen Up!

Modern employee feedback systems continuously gather pulses from stakeholders on how they’re doing about important ethics, compliance and culture topics. The most effective systems capture feedback from anonymous hotlines, web reporting and case management, digital suggestion boxes, surveys and exit interviews.

Speak Up!

A strong ethical culture ensures all stakeholders – certainly including women athletes – are comfortable with raising concerns and managers are skilled with receiving and responding to feedback. A “speak up” culture benefits when everyone is comfortable raising concerns about questionable conduct, and contributing suggestions and ideas. The most effective programs include bursts of microlearning, snapshots and communication tools to educate employees and reinforce key topics and concepts that are important to your mission, vision, values and objectives.

Experience Insights

Analytics fuel your organization’s intelligence and cultural awareness with automated dashboards, cultural updates, reports and alerts, and secure data retention. According to a Grant Thornton study, 69% of companies are not measuring culture, despite 93% of executives who say they are attuned their culture and are taking steps to improve it. Continuous response systems alone don’t drive a great stakeholder experience, but they absolutely matter in supporting your culture of trust and inclusion.

Final Words

When organizations continuously engage and respond to employees, teams are empowered, and individuals know their voices are being heard and that they are essential contributors to achieving success. A healthy and vibrant culture is your first line of defense to prevent inappropriate behavior and create complete visibility and awareness across your organization.

Athletes and other employees and stakeholders want their voices to be heard, which is a powerful force for employers of choice who continue to win the battle for top talent. To remain competitive, organizations and franchises need to leverage innovative systems that listen to feedback, encourage people to speak up, and present their feedback in real time to leaders who sponsor a clear and compelling mission.

Syntrio’s ebook, Why Reporting Hotlines are a Best Practice, provides insights for improving your workplace culture and overall performance.

See you in the stands!

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