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The Utah Jazz will give a four-year college scholarship to an “underrepresented or minority” student for every win this season, team owner Ryan Smith told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on “The Woj Pod” podcast.
The effort is part of the team’s focus on helping communities and using its platform to “drive proper changes,” he said. It has not been officially announced by the team as of Friday morning and would be the first offer of the type by an NBA team.
Smith, the co-founder of Utah-based cloud computing company Qualtrics, bought the majority stake in the team from Gail Miller and the Miller family in October.
Jazz already have 7 scholarships for students
The plan is to help students financially, but also give them the knowledge of how to apply, where to go for information and when to get started.
“It’s not only to give folks money who wouldn’t have had a chance,” Smith said. “It’s also [for] a lot of people who don’t know how to get the process going getting into college.”
The Jazz went 3-0 in the preseason, creating three scholarships there. They are 4-4 currently. It’s creating extra motivation for players, Smith said, as many came to him in the preseason to ask if those wins counted toward scholarships.
Smith said the Jazz plan to work with different universities to create five or six scholarships and work together on bringing in students.
Jazz turn efforts to social justice issues
It all came out of a focus on social justice over the summer and the realization, Smith said, that the Jazz were unconsciously ignoring the issue.
“We were spending 50-to-1 efforts on other things as opposed to social justice issues. I truly believe that we have platforms to do good and systemic racism or unconscious bias around racial issues or social issues, it’s real. We had it within our own organization and it wasn’t that people were consciously trying to do something. It’s just we weren’t active in saying, ‘Hey we’re going to go use our platform to drive systematic change.’
“And we have equity problems across pay, across race within our communities. I just want to look back and say, ‘Hey, I did everything I possibly could to make the world a more equitable place.’ And I’ll just tell you, we have not been doing everything we possibly can.”
Smith said other issues they’ll focus on will include equitable healthcare and economic opportunity with task forces that will involve players and companies.
Election showed power of collective NBA voice
Smith applauded the players for their work over the summer in using their platform to drive change.
“I think the one thing that doesn’t get talked about is how the players came together to have a very constructive voice around getting people out to vote,” Smith said. “They weren’t telling people how to vote. They were saying, hey, come out and vote. And we drive more people than ever to vote. And I think the NBA has a big piece of pride that they should have in that of using the platform to do good.”
Arenas offered up their buildings as voting sites and nowhere was the impact of that more clear than in Georgia. The Atlanta Hawks opened State Farm Arena for early voting in the Nov. 3 presidential election and for the senate runoffs that concluded on Tuesday. Both races were close and proved pivotal in the elections.
Players and teams also used their social media accounts to promote voting, show how to register and encourage fans to get involved. They also educated followers on voter rights.
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