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Diversity Training Isn’t A Punishment: Lessons from Athletes Who Say Bad Things

MLB, diversity training isn't a punishment
Written by Matan Berkowitz

On July 29, the Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb came within one out of pitching a no-hitter. Actually, he even came within one strike. This was a remarkable achievement. No-hitters are pretty rare – on average, there are about two no-hitters every year out of 2,430 total games played. Even though Newcomb didn’t quite make it all the way, his performance was good enough to make headlines.

Then people found his tweets.

As soon as Newcomb found this new level of fame, people all over the internet looked through his old tweets and found some truly hurtful, discriminatory posts from when Newcomb was a senior in high school.

And here’s the thing: this is not the first time we’ve seen this story. Just a few weeks ago, homophobic and racist tweets from Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader were resurfaced during the All-Star game. And just after the Newcomb story broke, racist tweets by his teammate Trea Turner were brought to light.

In each case, the reaction has been pretty much the same. The players have apologized, and explained that the tweets in question were from when they were younger and are no longer a reflection of who they are. Their teammates have come out in support of them as good people. Their organizations put out statements condemning the tweets and saying they’ll work with the players to make amends in their community. And Major League Baseball has promised these players will be sent to diversity training.

Diversity Training Is for Everyone, Not Just Bad Actors

Now, there are plenty of interesting facets of this story to focus on. To what degree can people be held responsible for things they did or said as kids? How can we account for a person’s growth while also acknowledging that their intent doesn’t change the damage their words have done? How can the players react to show their growth and attempt to heal the wounds they’ve caused?

As we work through these questions, there is one takeaway we can agree on right now: diversity training should not be a punishment.

To be clear, it’s great to hear that diversity training is a part of the solution to this problem – it’s a good and necessary first step to actually changing these players’ attitudes and behaviors.

The problem isn’t with MLB’s response; it’s with the broader tendency of people and organizations, who tend to view diversity trainings as a punishment or a response to a specific event. We view these diversity trainings as boring and tedious, and they’re only given to people or organizations that have misbehaved in some way. (Full disclosure: one of my favorite episodes of 30 Rock is when Liz Lemon has to go to sexual harassment training after a lawsuit is filed against her. But now I wonder, why didn’t Liz have this training before it became a problem?)

Instead of waiting for something bad to happen, we can take a proactive approach and intervene early and often. A modern approach to compliance training doesn’t have to be boring and it shouldn’t be given only to the people who have done something wrong. Everyone can uncover unconscious biases that impact their lives and the lives of those around them. Everyone can be more inclusive of others. Everyone can benefit from diversity and inclusion trainings.

There’s no need to wait until there’s an obvious reason to take diversity trainings. The need exists already, and the training is available right now, for everyone, for free. Get ahead of the curve and start with some of our free Unconscious Bias lessons, so you can find ways to be more inclusive of all those around you.