Saturday, February 24, 2024

Elon sports management professor sees diversity grow within industry

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Khirey Walker has seen a lot of change within Elon University’s sport management department since coming back as a professor. The former Phoenix defensive lineman graduated from Elon in 2011 before returning in 2022 to teach sport management. 

One aspect that has particularly grown in the general field of sport management is the number of increasing opportunities for Black professionals. Walker said he’s starting to see more organizations apply a bigger emphasis on diversity.

Khirey Walker, former Phoenix defensive lineman, graduated from Elon in 2011 before returning in 2022 to teach sport management. Photo courtesy of Elon Athletics Archive.

“It’s been very intentional by some organizations to increase the number of Black professionals,” Walker said.  

Even though Walker has recognized the current progress being made, he believes there are also additional ways to further expand the chances for Black people in that particular arena. 

Walker identified one way for Black people to have an even greater presence is for them to have positions that are impactful not just within the sport management industry, but in all sports. 

“You see the opportunities available, but it’s putting African Americans in those positions of impact, such as a head coach or even an upper level administrator, not just as an athletic director,” Walker said. “The growth has been there, but I still think there’s a lot of others that need to be making it in order to really maximize the opportunity.”

Another area of improvement, according to Walker, is to make Black women being in the arena of sport management a priority. 

“You have to be intentional with your approach. That’s letting Black women know, this is a place for you to flourish,” Walker said. “It’s not just saying, ‘Oh you can do marketing’ – you can be a director of compliance, development, whatever it is you want to be.”

In between Walker’s years as a student and a professor, he went to Louisiana State University where he earned a Ph.D. He then taught for five years at Ball State University.

Walker on Feb. 18, 2011 at the Night of the Phoenix. Photo courtesy of Elon Athletics Archive.

For his first ever class, Walker was immediately thrown into the mix, which featured 151 students. But with time, he grew more accustomed to the job through relating with his students.  

“You have to develop your class based off the students that are in there,” Walker said. “I had a lot of engaged students, so I went with more of a discussion based class and it worked.”

While teaching at Elon, Walker has been trying to serve as that same type of influence to other Black student-athletes in his situation. This especially pertains to student athletes as Walker can relate to their experience going back to his time as a student athlete at Elon.

When it comes to Walker’s experience teaching sport management, he expressed gratitude for other people in his field who are doing the work he hopes to continue. 

“There’s ample others who do such a tremendous job creating spaces for African Americans to really flourish,” Walker said. “When you see someone who looks like you have the levels of success in sport, it gives a feeling of okay, I can do this too.”

One student athlete who has formed a close friendship with Walker is redshirt freshman quarterback Will Lankford, who views him as a significant influence. 

“There’s not a lot of Black men on this campus, so being able to have another person that looks like you and talk to them has been pretty big for me,” Lankford said.

As for Walker’s platform in the sport management department, Lankford said it’s a big deal for him to see a guy like Walker in a prominent position. According to Elon’s website, 7.6% of Elon’s full-time faculty is Black, 72% is white.

“I think it’s pretty huge, especially having someone you know that’s getting the platform and opportunity of being in a growing business,” Lankford said. 

However, Walker’s friendship with Lankford goes beyond the sport management department as they regularly interact around campus. 

“If I see him at McEwen, I’ll speak to him,” Lankford said. “He comes to practices too, so he’ll sometimes give me a pointer on how I could possibly change a thing to make myself a little bit better of a player. Every time we see each other, it puts a smile on my face as well as his face.”

Outside Elon’s sport management department, Walker is also involved in the iBELONG Mentoring Program where a teacher is paired one on one with a Black male student on campus. 

The program gives Walker another outlet to connect with the students on campus, and simply talk with them about life, while being able to help guide them in general. 

“It helps to hear about life in perspective from someone who’s not their teacher, someone who’s not their academic advisor, but someone who is genuinely trying to invest for knowledge,” Walker said. “It’s something I see myself being actively involved in.” 

Walker said it’s important for students to not just invest themselves in the academic aspect of Elon, but also the community as a whole. 

“When you have the opportunity to really immerse yourself into the community, you feel more connected to it and you get to build more relationships,” Walker said. “The teachers may change, the students may change, but those individuals in the community don’t change, they stay.”


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