It was a week of horror for America with the mass murder in the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the pipe bombs mailed across America, and the murder of two African-Americans at a Kroger grocery story in Kentucky.  Hate seemed to beget hate.  At the DeVos Sport Business Management Program and the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, we stand for making sure Hate Will NEVER win.

This past Thursday at the Institute for Sport and Social Justice’s annual Giant Steps Award Banquet we celebrated the accomplishments of those who have used the power of sport to impact positive change and thus proved that Hate Will NEVER win.  As our MC, the incomparable Jemele Hill helped guide us.

In addition to our regular awards, President John Hitt and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were inducted into the ISSJ Hall of Fame, joining other such as Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad and Lonnie Ali, Anita DeFrantz, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Billy Mills, Danny Weurfel, the Tuskegee Airmen, Coaches Eddie Robinson and Dean Smith, Nancy Lieberman, Julius Erving, Lee Elder, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Tom Satch Sanders, Rachel and Jackie Robinson, Frank Deford, Wayne Embry, Robin Roberts and Rich DeVos.

John Hitt, now President Emeritus of UCF after leading the University for 26 years, has been recognized as one of America’s leading educators and for being a champion of inclusion and innovation. The percentage of UCF students who are minorities increased from 15 to 46 in his tenure.  Now one of every four UCF students is the first in his or her family to attend college.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is known as maybe the best and most dominant player to play in NBA history, but he is so much more than that. He is an actor, a New York Times-bestselling author, a filmmaker, an ambassador of education, and is columnist for Time Magazine and The Guardian. He is also the Chair of the Skyhook Foundation, which brings educational STEM opportunities to underserved communities.

The Giant Steps Awards Winners triumphed through adversity, broke barriers and glass ceilings, and found ways to prevail after tragedy struck.

The recipient of the Courageous Student-Athlete Award is Megan Cunningham, a cross country student athlete at the University of Missouri. Following a near fatal car crash in 2015 where doctors said she only had a small chance of walking again, Megan refused to give up and was cleared to run eight months after the crash, going on to win two SEC championship races.

Norma Bastidis, the recipient of the “A Hero Among Us” Award, broke the Guinness World Record for the longest triathlon, after swimming, biking and running 3,762 miles from Cancún, Mexico to Washington D.C., following a human trafficking trail that thousands are forced to travel year after year. A survivor of human trafficking herself, Norma wanted to bring awareness to the severity of human trafficking across the world. Norma’s documentary, “Be Relentless”, follows her journey to break the record, inspiring us all to do our part to end human trafficking.

Following the deaths of two of their fellow teammates by suicide within a very short period of time, Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci, student athletes at Oregon State University, created the Damn Worth It campaign, promoting mental health awareness for student athletes. The pair received the Civic Leaders Award for their hard work and we look forward to what they accomplish next.

Rachael Denhollander and Jordyn Wieber both received “A Hero Among Us” awards, for courageously identifying the man that sexually assaulted them and hundreds of other young female gymnasts and student athletes at Michigan State. Rachael was the first person to publicly name Larry Nassar as her assaulter, paving the way for 350 other women to come forward, with many testifying at his trial. They have both spoken out against the organizations that failed to protect them all those years ago and trying to make sure that those organizations don’t’ allow something like this to happen ever again.

As a breaker of many barriers herself by becoming the first woman to play in a men’s professional football league in 2014 and the first female NFL coach for the Arizona Cardinals in 2015, Dr. Jen Welter was rightfully awarded the Barrier Breaker Award. We look forward to seeing what barrier Jen will break next!

The Stoneman Douglas HS Boy’s Hockey team won the Courageous Student-Athletes Award, after winning the State Hockey Championship days after the shooting tragedy that struck their school on February 14. As heavy underdogs, they beat the odds and took home the state title. There were 17 of them on the team, the same number of students killed at their high school just days before. They knew that those 17 victims were watching over them that day. They returned to their high school and placed their 17 medals on the 17 memorials of the fallen students.

The 2018 Giant Steps Banquet, hosted by the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, was a great event and we were so proud to recognize the deserving recipients who truly embody the power of sport in society. Hate Will NEVER win.  Love can ALWAYS conquer hate.

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