Character Development of Young Athletes Will Be Focus of Groundbreaking UT Austin Effort

AUSTIN, Texas  Recognizing the need for college and professional athletes to serve as leaders and role models, The University of Texas at Austin is launching a new center that will help young male and female athletes succeed on and off the field as responsible citizens.

The Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation will leverage UT Austin's expertise in academics and success in athletics to change the culture at a time when national headlines remain focused on high-profile athletes' behavior and responsibilities. The first-of-its-kind program will also build on the university's long-held philosophy of "winning with integrity."

"As a society, we should be doing everything we can to leverage the enormous popularity of athletics to develop leaders and cultivate integrity. We've long known that sports can teach critical virtues like teamwork and discipline," said university President Bill Powers. "I'm excited to explore new ways to use the inherent power of sports as a force for good. By blending two areas in which UT has long been strong athletics and leadership training we are creating an important nexus of study and training."

Collaborating with colleges and schools across the campus, the new center will:

  • Work with high school coaches to develop a training and certification program on best practices for character development of student athletes including how to detect, intervene and correct troubling or violent behavior.
  • Develop a financial literacy program for UT student athletes that draws from financial professionals and former athletes and that can be emulated elsewhere.
  • Promote faculty- and student-driven research that includes case studies related to decision-making by athletes.

A pilot certification program for high school football and women's basketball coaches will begin in the summer of 2015. A one-hour pilot financial literacy course will then launch in the fall, potentially coinciding with anticipated legal rulings about compensating student athletes.

"The center will serve as the epicenter for the creation of character development curricula in the sports world," said founding director Daron K. Roberts. "We aim to use interdisciplinary research, entrepreneurial thinking and strong relationships with outside groups to ensure that young athletes can all become responsible role models."

Roberts is a former UT Austin student government president and NFL assistant coach. He currently serves as both a lecturer in UT Austin's College of Liberal Arts and as an analyst on TV's Longhorn Network.

The center will examine how athletes and athletics can positively affect the confluence of sports, media and society, building on UT academic scholarship and courses that examine those issues. These include the Texas Program in Sports and Media; the sports management major; the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports; and faculty research into such areas as race and sports, the history of sport and doping.

The new center will also work closely with the Athletics department, which is already a national model in helping students excel academically.

"We are looking forward to working with Daron to implement the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation here at The University of Texas," said men's Athletics Director Steve Patterson. "It will build on the quarter century of leadership, which Daron has recognized in his own words as 'the most progressive offering of professional and personal development initiatives that (he has) seen in the country.' This combined effort should integrate well with both The University and Texas Athletics core values and hopefully serve as a model that can be expanded to enhance the personal growth and collegiate experience of all Texas students."

Longhorns football coach Charlie Strong, who has drawn widespread attention and praise from NFL leaders for his core values such as honesty and respect for women, also welcomed the new center.

"Everything we do at The University of Texas is about the overall development of student athletes," Strong said. "What they do on the field, in the classroom and in the community are all really important parts of these young people becoming adults. If they take advantage of all of the resources and opportunities they have here, they are putting themselves in a position to grow as people, earn their degrees and have very bright futures."

The center will be funded through the president's office for three years, largely with revenue from the Longhorn Network. It will also seek collaborations and partnerships with private, nonprofit and advocacy groups in an effort to become financially self-sufficient.

"The University of Texas at Austin has long been a national leader in academics and athletics," said Cameka Crawford of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "The development of this center is an example of the role that universities and student athletes can play in helping to change our culture's perception of dating violence and sexual assault, particularly on college campuses."

"Daron Roberts is an outstanding choice to lead the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "It is critically important for all of us to work together on developing qualities of high character in athletes at all levels. We know that Daron has the skills to move the ball down the field on this initiative and we look forward to supporting him."