Ed Rendell, David Stern talk sports, politics, and Philly fandom at Beyond Sport Summit
It was jarring, hearing someone from overseas talk of Veterans Stadium’s 700 Level as if it were a mystic netherworld.
“Horrid language, public urination, and general strangeness,” he said with a broadening British grin.
“He’s being too kind,” replied moderator Kevin Neghandi of ESPN, a west Philly native.
It’s unsurprising that the vile actions and bodily fluids of The Vet’s upper echelons have crossed the Atlantic Ocean. What’s most shocking is that they didn’t keep the Brits from wanting to come here for the Beyond Sport Summit, a convention on the usage of sports to perform global good and founded by British CEO and entrepreneur Nick Keller. Wednesday was the final day of the summit, but after Keller had the floor, a bevy of high profile guest speakers took to the stage to offer perspective.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie took the podium first, but before he could thank anybody or use the word “passionate” a bunch of times, an E-A-G-L-E-S chant broke out, causing laughter, applause, and possibly alarm for any non-natives who may not be aware of this city’s spelling customs.
“I’ll try not to speak as fast as our coach talks or our offense plays,” Lurie said. So get ready for a generation of “The Eagles’ offense is so fast//HOW FAST ARE THEY??” jokes.
“The power of sports really does transcend the action on the field,” he went on. “With the right messages, themes, and practices, it can create real positive social change across the world and allow us to overcome the really hard challenges some communities face.”
Neghandi then welcomed on stage NBA commissioner David Stern and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to speak on the involvement of government in sports, sports in government, and the usage of sports’ influence for the greater good. Rendell’s intersecting interests allowed him a thoughtful viewpoint on the stranglehold sports have on their audiences, namely the youth.
“When I was mayor, Allen Iverson showed up at tons of things I did as mayor, and he was talking to kids,” Rendell said. “And when he talked to kids, they listened, because it was Allen Iverson. First, they heard the mayor, and everybody’s attention was wandering, and then Allen gets up and the kids were riveted.”
“It’s true,” Stern agreed. “It’s even true about Dikembe Mutumbo.”
The 7' 2" Mutumbo had just snuck into the room the only way he could - unsuccessfully.
“Somebody said about Dikembe, he speaks seven languages, and you can’t understand one,” Rendell said.
The magnitude of outlets like the NBA easily became the topic, with Stern ready and willing to admit his league’s sway.
“We should be severely criticized if we don’t take advantage of it, and really, we shouldn’t talk about it as an opportunity, we should talk about it as an obligation.”
“Our teams in all sports, our leagues, our governments, our players, and maybe most importantly, the NGOs [non-governmental organizations], are really coming together on a global basis. Because the NGOs are getting the recognition for providing the ongoing expertise, regardless of who happens to be in power or office.”
Stern talked on the NBA Cares program, which recently had him in Mumbai with Magic Bus, an NGO that focuses on better lives for impoverished children.
"These kids had every counterfeit NBA jersey you could possibly imagine," Stern said, laughing. "They mobbed us. They just want someone to care a little bit about them. I think we have an enormous opportunity in sports that are going to influence kids to make better choices, to feel better about themselves, and to find in some cases a pathway that makes their lives a bit better."
“Sports have a unifying affect that nothing else in society has,” Rendell concurred. “I think if you’re in government, you understand that. A good mayor, a good government, you’re talking to people all the time. The mood in Philadelphia since Monday night—”
“Completely different,” Neghandi said.
“Completely different,” Rendell agreed. “You can’t run a city or a state or for that matter, a country, just on bottom line. You can’t see it in an audit, and we feel it more in Philadelphia. I think David will posit that Philadelphia fans are a bit more sports-mad than any other city.”
“Yes,” Stern agreed immediately, seemingly drawing from a past experience – or trauma.