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Glanville: 'It's all about elevating humanity'

Former Major Leaguer teaching Communications, Sports and Social Justice course at UPenn
MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- More than 40 students nearly filled Room 109 at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication late Wednesday afternoon. Comm307 registered full, and several young people who attended were on a waiting list, hoping to be added.

Part of the attraction was the intriguing course title: Communications, Sports and Social Justice. And part was the instructor: Penn alum -- and former Major Leaguer -- Doug Glanville, who handled the class with the poise of a longtime professor even though he's a rookie behind the lectern.

PHILADELPHIA -- More than 40 students nearly filled Room 109 at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication late Wednesday afternoon. Comm307 registered full, and several young people who attended were on a waiting list, hoping to be added.

Part of the attraction was the intriguing course title: Communications, Sports and Social Justice. And part was the instructor: Penn alum -- and former Major Leaguer -- Doug Glanville, who handled the class with the poise of a longtime professor even though he's a rookie behind the lectern.

Glanville, who was the Cubs' first-round Draft pick in 1991 and also played for the Phillies and Rangers in his nine-year big league career, helped design the syllabus a year ago.

The stated objectives are to look at the history of sports and communications around social justice topics, the ways messages are crafted to address inequity around these topics, how communications shifts once the message is sent to an audience and how to best use communications to address inequities.

But don't be fooled by that academic-sounding approach. The idea for this course is rooted in two very personal incidents, experiences of being the victim of racial profiling that Glanville, who is African-American, shared early in his introductory remarks. "My social justice moments," he called them.

Four years ago, Glanville was shoveling snow from the driveway of his Hartford, Conn., home. A passing policeman stopped. "So, you trying to make a few extra bucks, shoveling people's driveways around here?" the cop asked.

Two years later, while on assignment as a baseball analyst with ESPN, Glanville and a white colleague landed late one night at Los Angeles International Airport. His co-worker jumped in a cab. When Glanville got to the front of the taxi line, he was told: "Take the bus. It's $19."

Before the three hours were up, a lively back-and-forth took place with names like Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, rapper Kendrick Lamar and, yes, Colin Kaepernick among those discussed.

"I feel this course is so relevant as we try to define how our political dialogue and discourse is going," the 47-year-old Glanville, who graduated with a degree in engineering, said after class was dismissed. "Whether we can find enough common ground to find sustainable solutions that are inclusive and sensitive to where we all come from and where we identify.

"For me, it's life work because I grew up in a community [Teaneck, N.J.] that voluntarily desegregated. And baseball was that space, sports was that space that gave you a sense of ideals. The meritocracy, the potential, the constant obsession with balance and fairness which translates very well to elevating issues for a greater concept. A greater goal. ... To me, the analogy is the game being our humanity. Sure, we come from all walks of life. We are identified from so many perspectives. But in the end game, for this work about justice and equality, it's all about elevating the most important thing, [which is] humanity."

Glanville and his teaching assistant, John Vilanova, envision a highly interactive process. They've devised "games" to promote engagement. In one, students will be assigned different sports and asked to defend it as the most just. One is called "Name That CBA"; the object is to name the sport from a passage of its Collective Bargaining Agreement. Or "Who Wants to be an Activist?" with the rest of the class serving as the lifeline.

There have been overtures to an impressive lineup of potential guest lecturers. Glanville has reached out to famed sociologist Harry Edwards, author of "The Revolt of the Black Athlete;" Jeff Miller, vice president of health and safety for the NFL (and Glanville's ex-roommate); Sarah Attar, one of the first women to represent Saudi Arabia in the Olympics; ESPN's Jessica Mendoza and Jones.

There will be a social-media component, and current events will help dictate the direction of the discussions each week. In that sense, Glanville pointed out, the timing of this class couldn't be better, since it encompasses the Super Bowl, March Madness, the Winter Olympics and MLB's Opening Day.

This is the first time Glanville has taught, but he's been a guest lecturer and is an experienced public speaker, and that helped him make a smooth transition. While the subject matter is weighty and important, he also demonstrated a knack for injecting humor when appropriate.

For instance, during a discussion about the elements of the fundamental fairness in sports competition, one of the elements cited was that all players use the same equipment. "Although [Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady could be an exception," Glanville said as a smiling aside.

Paul Hagen is a national columnist for MLB.com.

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