For many of us, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about “sports” or “athletes” are the superstar athletes of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, or the National Football League.
It’s the stuff of ESPN SportsCenter highlight reels. It might be Mike Trout hitting a towering home run into the centerfield rock pile of Angel Stadium of Anaheim, or it might be Giannis Antetokounmpo taking three strides from half-court and throwing down a monster dunk, or maybe its Odell Beckham Jr. making an impossible-except-for-he-just-did-it one-handed grab in the back of the end-zone.
But sports and athletics have a far deeper and broader meaning. Sports isn’t just a thing we watch on television. In fact, recent polling indicates that 7 in 10 Americans want to see more representation of everyday athletes in sports media. For so many of us, playing sports has an important place in our everyday lives. Think of all those who are staying in shape and connecting with their friends by playing in pick-up games, after-work sports leagues, or in formal or informal biking or running groups.
To help share these stories and to broaden our view of what it means to be an inspirational athlete, Dove Men+Care has teamed up with ESPN SportsCenter anchor, Kevin Negandhi, as part of a campaign that is focused on the representation of so-called “everyday athletes” in sports media.
The campaign is designed to challenge the stereotypes around athletes portrayed in sports media and expand representation, to promote a culture where men can confidently show care as a proud part of their masculinity.
Dove Men+Care chose three “regular guys” to be the face of this campaign: Chris Paul, Sean Williams, and Alvin Suarez. Each of them shares the names of a “famous athlete,” like Rockets point-guard Chris Paul, former NFL DB Sean Williams, and current Cincinnati Reds slugger Eugenio Suarez. They may not be as famous as the men whose last names they share, but each of them is extraordinary in his own right. They have their own compelling stories.
Dove Men+Care signed these three everyday athletes—not pros—to represent Dove Men+Care SPORTCARE, a new line of bodywash, shampoo and deodorant products for active men. They prove that untold stories of care in sports can inspire and encourage others.
“Dove Men+Care is committed to promoting a culture where men can confidently show care as a proud part of their masculinity, and many real athletes do that every day on the court, in the gym and at home with their families,” said Amy Stepanian, Marketing Director of Dove Men+Care for Unilever. “When we created a product line for athletes, we wanted to address the needs of every man who defines himself as one, not just those who have been elevated up the ranks of their sport. We have signed on amazing athletes, who deserve the same level of praise and attention because of the way they show care, as any professional that might share their names.”
The Good Men Project was pleased to have a chance to speak with and learn more about Kevin, Chris, Sean, and Alvin, particularly since the values that undergird this campaign align so well with the inclusive vision of masculinity that we push forward on the daily, as well as the broad relationship of sports to numerous social and cultural values and issues.
Chris Paul of San Diego, CA is a Marine Corps Veteran who connects with other men through biking, hiking and running. To empower his community, he created a support base for men to help each other through their fitness journey and hold each other accountable. Chris is inspired by his family of nine and stays motivated knowing he does not want to miss a single moment of his kids’ lives.
Chris finds his motivation to play sports in his family: “I’m not an athlete like the pros— as a career or for the glory or the records. I needed a bigger ‘why.’ For me, it’s about my people. I’m a dad too. Between myself and my wife, when we came together, we integrated a family of six daughters. Then we had a boy together; he’s now three years old, and he is all boy, rough and tumble. I need to be there for him as he grows into a man.”
Chris also spoke of the deep value of sports and athletics as a connective tissue of our relationships. This was hugely important for him, especially as a young father:
“When you jump into parenthood, there’s a tendency to do it to the demise of your own relationships — you can lose track of your high school or college buddies, and it can feel like you’re on an island. I find that you need to be intentional about forming friendships with them – or other friends – again. There is an issue with men and loneliness — it’s important to connect and reconnect. I get a lot of that connection from sports and athletics. We take it for granted, but we can’t.”
Kevin Negandhi agrees that we need to be deliberate about keeping our lives balanced and doing those kinds of things to maintain friendships and connection. Otherwise, you can too easily look up and find that six months have passed:
“I want to be a good father to my boys and my baby daughter. But it’s also important to take breaks with friends. Whether it’s going to a two-day sports camp to get away from work and recharge or going to a big sports event, I like to wrap those breaks around sports or sports events.”
Sean Williams, of Farmingville, NY is a volunteer firefighter and father. Sports and exercise are more than just an activity for Sean, they are a way for him to help his community. As a volunteer firefighter, he is always on-call and ready to respond at all times. Sean also started The Dad Gang, an organization that tackles stereotypes of what it means to be a Black father and challenges these stigmas through events centered around physical fitness. Since 2016, The Dad Gang has created a legacy of care in his community.
Sean is “thrilled to be part of this initiative. Representation is really important, and they’ve created a space where we can represent ourselves.” For him, part of that identity is as an African American dad who loves being engaged in his children’s lives:
“Athletics and physical activity played a huge role for me in just being an active dad. It allows me to play an even bigger role in my kids’ lives…Having toddlers is the real sport! And no one comes to carry you off the field when you throw your back out playing with your kid!”
Alvin Suarez, of New York, NY grew up visually-impaired. When he was young, he was told that he wouldn’t amount to much of an athlete. However, when Alvin was in school, he discovered Goalball, a sport for the visually-impaired that relies on ear-hand coordination. Goalball has given him the confidence and endurance to pursue other sports and keep up with his twins around the house, which is hopes inspires others.
As Alvin explained, “I’m really proud to be of this group. It takes open-mindedness, leadership, and courage to tell these stories. Being able to break down stereotypes in both sport and life and to be an example for my daughters, who are not disabled, so they can see what you can achieve if you don’t give up.”
Alvin also honed in on the “care” aspect of sports, and what it means to him:
“As a man, just the fact that the name of the brand has care in it – Dove Mens Plus Care – is significant. Sports gives me the ability to care; I’m talking about self-care, keeping in shape and fitness. Sports gives us so many opportunities to do this. And then we can expand that care from the self to our families, teammates, and community (like for my LatinX community), until we’re talking about caring on a global level. Caring is often overlooked. But that’s what its all about.”
Despite the fact that Negandhi’s day-job at ESPN focuses on the exploits of the world’s most famous athletes, this campaign resonates deeply with him: “All of these athletes set an example for their family and inspire the next generation of athletes:”
“I’m lucky to do what I do and that I get to interact with the best athletes in the world. But I really appreciate the concept of ‘everyday athletes.’ It’s not just guys like LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Gronk. It’s about guys like Chris Paul; I love connecting to these athletes and helping to tell their stories. We’re all dedicated dads and we do it every day; everyday people.”
Like the athletes, Negandhi is also an active dad and sees sports and athletics as an important way to get in shape and stay active for himself and his family: “I’m a father of three – two boys, ages 7 and 5, and a 3 year old girl. When I was having my kids, I realized I needed to get in shape and get active.”
GMPSports asked Kevin Negandhi a few questions about the campaign and his involvement in it:
You’re involved in a campaign for Dove Men+Care that focuses on a set of “everyday” athletes—not professional super star athletes – as the face of the campaign. Why do you think it’s important to focus on these athletes?
The trio highlighted by Dove Men+Care are everyday guys who break stereotypes in their own unique way. They’re all fathers who faced their own adversity and pushed on as amazing role models for their own children while challenging themselves athletically. To me, they’re everyday heroes who have the ability to inspire everyday people.
Sports has the power to inspire. What types of stories are inspirational to you?
When someone says you can’t do something. When someone denies you opportunity. When someone puts you in a certain stereotypical box, and you find a way to break through because of your belief in the power of sport where everyone deserves an opportunity to compete. Alvin, Sean and Chris all represent those aspects.
Do you think that there are stereotypes about athletics and sports and what it means to be an inspiring athlete? Where do those stereotypes come from?
These stereotypes come from lack of understanding or trying to understanding. Just taking the easy way out and judging someone without actually seeing things from their perspective.
Why do you think it’s important to work to challenge those stereotypes? How do you do that?
It’s important to challenge stereotypes because it will change your life and could have a lasting impact to change others lives. Often, we need visuals—seeing someone break through and setting an example to give us the courage that we can do what they did and continue to push the imaginary boundaries often set by the naysayers.
How do you do it? You work harder than everyone. You stay positive. And you surround yourself with people who support you.
Photo Credits: Dove Men+Care (with permission); Negandhi Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images