New chair to move sport, society ‘beyond rhetoric’

Adela Talbot // Western NewsKinesiology professor David Howe was recently named the inaugural Dr. Frank J. Hayden Chair in Sport and Social Impact. The role brings together scholars, graduate students and partner organizations to study the social impact of sport and physical activity, with an emphasis on social inclusion, health equity and mobility.

In a way, David Howe hopes to one day put himself out of business by creating a more level playing field.

“I long for the day when we no longer need to talk about inclusion in sport and society more broadly,” said the Kinesiology professor and four-time Paralympian recently appointed to a new research position at Western. “That will be the sign that we have moved beyond rhetoric and are living in a diverse welcoming society.”

Howe now plays a huge part in that evolution after being named the inaugural Dr. Frank J. Hayden Chair in Sport and Social Impact, university officials announced today. The role brings together scholars, graduate students and partner organizations to study the social impact of sport and physical activity, with an emphasis on social inclusion, health equity and mobility.

In October 2018, the chair was established through a $1.5-million gift from the Special Olympics Canada Foundation, Special Olympics Canada and their partner chapters, organizations and champions. The position is named after Special Olympics pioneer Frank Hayden, BA’55, LLD’11.

“Dr. Howe’s experience and passion for inclusion in sport is well-suited to carry on Dr. Hayden’s pivotal research and legacy. He will help Special Olympics across Canada in its efforts to build positive attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities,” said Sharon Bollenbach, Special Olympics Canada CEO. “We look forward to working with Dr. Howe and putting his research into practice, so we can continue transforming lives through sport.”

Howe, who came to Western in 2018 from Loughborough University (U.K.), holds a PhD in Medical Anthropology from University College London (U.K.) and is a four-time Paralympian, representing Canada in track and field.

The opportunity to take on this role has been a long time in the making. He began collecting data on disability in sport more than three decades ago, writing about his experiences, the limitations of opportunities for disabled athletes and how his impaired body shaped his identity, purely out of interest, until his personal and academic lives began to dovetail.

“It wasn’t until the late 1990s that my personal experiences started weaving their way into my work,” he said. “Since, I’ve really become interested in sport and its social impact in terms of disability, physical activity and culture. In Canada, the rhetoric is about the need for an inclusive society. We are still firmly in the stage where it is simply talk and as a result, we need to explore how changing the culture of sport and physical activity can aid the inclusion agenda.”

Howe sees the creation of this new role and the partnership with Special Olympics Canada as an opportunity to expand the scope of his work and dig deeper into creating a broader understanding of the power of sport and physical activity.

“The United Nations sees access to sport and physical activity as a fundamental human right. But as a goal in Canada, we are far from achieving an environment where we all can gain access to programs,” he said. “Special Olympics Canada and Dr. Frank Hayden, in particular, were at the forefront of the ‘sport for all’ movement.

“Working with Special Olympics Canada will allow me to expand my research to include insights from those involved in the practice of sport for individuals with intellectual disability.”

Howe’s research focus makes him perfect to “carry the torch lit” by Hayden while a faculty member at Western, explained Laura Misener, Kinesiology Director.

“David’s academic background and experiences as a high-performance athlete give him a unique perspective to carry out the mandate of this position,” she continued. “As part of our Sport and Social Impact Research Group, David will bring together scholars from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, and work closely with Special Olympics Canada to mobilize research knowledge throughout their network of partners.”