As the first female president and CEO of the College Football Hall of Fame, it’s not lost on me that the world of American sports serves as a microcosm for equity in our broader society.
From integrating sports, the development of women’s professional sports leagues and Title IX, to athletes using their sport to make political statements, our great national struggles have always been reflected on our fields of play.
As a female leader and mother to a beautiful daughter, these struggles have often been personal, but never more so than the evening of May 29, 2020, when peaceful protests erupted into violence outside our doors and the College Football Hall of Fame was significantly damaged.
We were so fortunate that only property damage resulted from that evening. However, seeing the Hall so damaged was heartbreaking. So many individuals from all sectors dedicated their careers, time and financial resources to creating a world-class experience that honors the greatest players and coaches to ever take the field. “How could this happen to us?”
But sitting in that sadness wasn’t going to move the Hall or the city of Atlanta forward. Our four walls house the stories and honor the memories of many men who fought social injustice throughout their careers. Their courage to effect change paved the way for future generations and I believe that I, as a woman, also benefited from those movements. In that moment, it felt like we had a duty to ensure the stories of those individuals were told and heard.
As we prepared to reopen the Hall, plans were underway for a new special exhibit honoring Southern football, given that we were originally to host SEC Media Days in July. It was clear to me that was not the right exhibit for that moment in time, so I went to our curator and historian, Jeremy Swick, about pivoting, and fast. Jeremy shared that within the Southern football exhibit existed a robust section on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). What better time to celebrate the story of HBCUs and college football than right then?
The exhibit opened in July 2020 and was so well-received that we were able to secure Southern Company as sponsor to provide funding for a new permanent HBCU presence in the Hall. We proudly unveiled the new exhibit celebrating the past, present and future impact of HBCUs on Juneteenth of this year. The exhibit focuses on the three pillars inherent within the HBCU culture: Community, Leadership and Opportunity.
Building upon the success of our temporary HBCU exhibit, Jeremy curated a new special exhibit that would tell the story of integration and college football: Blood, Sweat and Tears, which opened in celebration of Black History Month and ran through August of this year.
We also had the opportunity to honor Women’s History Month with artifacts from Sarah Fuller, the first woman to score in a Power Five game, and Sarah Thomas, the first woman to referee in college and then in the Super Bowl.
Beyond the museum displays and exhibitions, we’ve launched other programs to ensure that diversity and inclusion are top of mind at the Hall. We’ve built a social justice curriculum that helps students and visitors learn how football has helped and will help bridge gaps in society.
Additionally, we believe accessibility is inclusion. Through our partnership with KultureCity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to accessibility, acceptance and inclusion for all individuals, we have implemented sensory awareness training for our entire team. We have sensory bags available on request and designated quiet areas for guests who need a moment before reengaging with our experience.
As a result of our efforts, the College Football Hall of Fame was recognized by Atlanta Business Chronicle as a 2021 winner of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Awards in the Outstanding Diversity in Organization category. To be recognized as an organization that authentically embraces equity and inclusion across all areas of diversity means more than any individual professional accolade I have received.
While we are proud of where the Hall stands today, this is a journey and it’s our mission to preserve and share history, as well as capture the current and future moments that will inspire generations to come.
Kimberly Beaudin is president and CEO for the College Football Hall of Fame.
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