In October, Dan Lebowitz became the third exec­u­tive director of Sport in Society in the 25-​​year his­tory of the social jus­tice orga­ni­za­tion. Fol­lowing in the foot­steps of founding director Richard Lapchick and his suc­cessor Peter Roby, now the director of ath­letics, is an exciting oppor­tu­nity, he said.

As the center readies to cel­e­brate its 25th anniver­sary, Lebowitz com­ments on the past and future of the center, and how sport con­tinues to play a pos­i­tive role for people of all backgrounds.

You’re the third exec­u­tive director of Sport in Society. As you cel­e­brate the 25th anniver­sary of the center’s founding, what goes through your head?

I feel hon­ored to follow in Richard Lapchick’s and Peter Roby’s foot­steps. They are among the greatest vision­aries in the past cen­tury in terms of how the power of sport can pos­i­tively impact social and racial jus­tice issues and gender equity.

Why is sport so impor­tant to so many people?

It’s a uni­versal lan­guage. It doesn’t matter if you speak Eng­lish, or Spanish or French. The pas­sion people have for the com­pet­i­tive nature and col­lab­o­ra­tive spirit of sport is some­thing all people can under­stand. It’s one place where those of dif­ferent races and reli­gions can all inter­sect at a point of common cause.

How will urban engage­ment become more inte­gral with Sport in Society in the next 25 years?

When I look into the future, I con­sider how we’re cen­tered in an urban area. North­eastern has made a major step toward engaging the sur­rounding com­mu­ni­ties both ath­let­i­cally and aca­d­e­m­i­cally. Our pro­gram is about using the power of sport to fur­ther this engage­ment.
We have a number of pro­grams that address erad­i­cating youth vio­lence and that cel­e­brate diver­sity rather than the tol­er­ance of diver­sity. We also have a pro­gram that addresses men’s vio­lence against women. It’s essen­tial because the con­cept that women are objec­ti­fied or dis­pos­able teaches the wrong con­struct of what man­hood is.

How should man­hood be defined?

It should be defined as a way that a man can be nur­turing in a rela­tion­ship, help empower his chil­dren, and the women in his life, and be a pos­i­tive force.

How do ath­letes convey these pos­i­tive mes­sages?

We use ath­letes to sell that mes­sage because people see ath­letes as the ulti­mate embod­i­ment of man­hood, and yet, we’re trying to change the way people view man­hood in a cul­ture that plays up pow­erful phys­i­cality, but doesn’t equally play up the emo­tions of caring, con­cern and compassion.

What role of did sport play in your own life?

I was dis­abled as a youth. I wore leg braces until I was 13. My life changed when I met a doctor who was the team doctor of the New Eng­land Whalers, the former ice hockey team. He was one of the first forward-​​thinkers about the inter­sec­tion of strength training and over­coming dis­ability. I went to see him almost every day at Children’s Hos­pital. I did an enor­mous number of exer­cises every day. From that I shed the leg braces, and became a com­pet­i­tive ath­lete, a power lifter and body builder and mar­tial artist. I attribute this to sport.

It must have been dif­fi­cult for a young boy to nav­i­gate in an ath­letic envi­ron­ment that, as you say, embraced phys­ical power.

People treated me like an out­cast, like I wasn’t part of the norm. Then when I became this pow­erful person in a phys­ical sense, people treated me in a dif­ferent way. They all wanted to be around me. That dichotomy was never lost on me. And so this job is some­thing I take seri­ously. We deal a lot with issues of dis­en­fran­chise­ment here. Whether it’s poverty, whether it’s finding loca­tions where people can par­tic­i­pate in sport, whether it’s dis­ability — we deal a lot with how sport can change the land­scape of social and racial jus­tice. I feel blessed to be here.

Looking for­ward, what do you see in the next 25 years for Sport in Society?

Going for­ward, I’d like the center to build on its his­tory. Through the power of sport, it’s moved his­tory along to create greater social jus­tice. I want this center to become an even more impor­tant urban-​​engagement arm for this uni­ver­sity. Sit­u­a­tions of eco­nomic need in neigh­bor­hoods are dire in good times, and daunting in bad times. I want the center to reach out to the high schools, the middle schools and the ele­men­tary schools and teach pro­grams about diver­sity and give oppor­tu­nity and access to urban kids.