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Honoring MLK brings about first-time gathering of NFL, NBA and MLB union heads

Anytime you try something for the first time, there’s a risk and reward factor.

One part of ESPN’s recognition of Martin Luther King Day brought together, for the first time, the executive directors of the NBA, NFL and MLB players unions for Sunday’s Outside the Lines (8 a.m. ET, ESPN2; 9 a.m. ESPNEWS; 10 a.m. ESPN2).

“I’ve moderated many panels during my career — they all have their own life to them, and this one worked,” said SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris, who guided the discussion among DeMaurice Smith (NFLPA), Michele Roberts (NBPA) and Tony Clark (MLBPA). “I think it was because they bought into the reason behind the effort. They all have, and are living, Dr. Martin Luther King’s dreams — plural, because he had many.”

Panel members gave their perspectives on minority representation among sports executives and covered topics including diversity in sports and the next generation’s opportunities to become on-field and front-office leaders.

“I was so impressed by their willingness to embrace the project — the conversation leading up to the taping showed they all had a sincere like and respect for each other, and the conversation in general showed they were interested and engaged,” Harris said. “My preparation was simple: I tried to be as minimal as possible — I knew who they were, I knew their backgrounds, and I knew we had some really great questions that would spark great conversation. I just had to ask the questions, get out of the way, and listen.”

It worked.

“It was a lively and enlightening discussion from a trio that had never been together before,” said producer Willie Weinbaum. “Everyone seemed to wish we had another hour to pursue more stories and exchanges on important and historic subjects. All of us who had the pleasure of participating in the production came away better educated and inspired to learn more.”

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