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Charlie Grantham – A Change Agent in the Sports Industry  

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Charlie Grantham is "The Man"

It was late winter of 1965. The venue was the Mansfield University gymnasium. The event was a basketball game between two Pennsylvania college rivals. On the home bench sat the Mansfield "Mounties." On the opposing bench sat the Cheyney College "Wolves." From Cheyney (founded in 1852 and originally named the African Institute), came a stellar all-black team (with the exception of one white player) determined to hit the hardwood and beat the restless Mounties.

Prior to tip-off, during the warm-ups, the bleachers rumbled with throngs of Mansfield fans who jeered and held banners that read, "Bye, bye blackbird!" and "Go home, N…..!" So crowded were the spectators, some of them stood on the out-of-bounds lines, which made the Mounties' taunts appear even more overbearing against their Cheyney opponents. Senior guard, Charles Grantham, was one of the Cheyney players, who, along with his teammates, felt the virulent racial tension.

Suddenly, the Cheyney head coach, Hal Blitman, who happened to be a white Jewish man, strode to the center of the floor and took the microphone.

"We will not play this game," his voice boomed, "until those signs are removed and the President of this college gets those signs taken down." With that, Coach Blitman ordered his team to the locker room and the Wolves did not come out until the Mansfield President did exactly what Blitman demanded.

"We proceeded to go out there and beat them as badly as we could," says now Stillman Professor Charles Grantham (Department of Management). "If I remember correctly, I think we won by 10 points." What's more, he recalls, "When we went back to our bus, all the windows were smashed. We had a very cold five-hour ride home!"

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1965 Cheyney State College Men's Basketball Team, Head Coach Hal Blitman (center), Charles Grantham (bottom row, second from right).

In 1965, the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum. When relating that memorable Mansfield vs. Cheyney game, Grantham notes, "We unknowingly protested."

An Influential Force
Peaceful protesting has become part of what Grantham does as an educator, a leader, and a negotiator. He speaks of his participation in the March on Washington during the Civil Rights era. Grantham also recollects his intense admiration of Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line when he became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB), when he became a starting second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. "I think that's really where I started to feel that it was necessary to protect the rights of others," he emphasizes. "I was very involved in sports, and that's where my interest has always been."

Grantham's resume tells only part of the story about his background and accomplishments. Chock-full of sports-related positions, what it does not say is that this quiet gentleman walks softly but carries a big stick of power and presence as a change agent in the sports industry, particularly, the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA). His past positions include Executive Director from 1978-1988, and Executive Vice President from 1988 to 1995, of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). As a consultant, Grantham represented many professional athletes in contract negotiations, evaluated professional sports franchises for purchase, and notably served as an advisor to the plaintiffs in the [former UCLA basketball player] Ed O’Bannon vs. NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] 2014 lawsuit.

Throughout his 40-plus years as a practitioner, consultant and professor, Grantham has published dozens of articles and commentaries in major publications, such as Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Sun Times, and The New York Times, related to players' rights and, in particular, racial relations in sports.

Sharing His Skills
No wonder, then, when Charles Grantham steps into his Wednesday evening graduate class, Negotiations and Dispute Resolution in Sports (BSPM 7536 and BMGT 7536), students are compelled to learn from his experience. He is, as some of his students have described him, "The Man!"

Current Stillman student and graduate assistant, Annie Evans (MBA ’19), says of Grantham, “He brings the class together in a way that keeps us interested in what we’re learning by collaborating with us. He makes me want to be a better person. “I know that may sound cheesy,” she admits, “but it’s true.”

Francesca Jacobus (MBA ’18), who recently completed the BSPM/BMGT 7536 class, echoes the same sentiments. “The negotiating skills Professor Grantham teaches us,” she says, “can be used in any real-life situations.” She adds, “He has real-life stories that back up the topics he covers in class.”

Grantham believes sports is about communication. "Sports help to establish teamwork and build relationships. They help in negotiations, because relationships are very, very important at the heart of negotiations," he emphasizes. "If you can't see my problem through my lens, and I can't see your problem through your lens, then we can't get anything accomplished. If you look at what's happening on our national scene, in sports, wherever there's conflict, it boils down to leadership style, goals, standards, relationships, and this dynamic thing called leverage," says Grantham.

On the National Scene
Grantham integrates leadership, relationships and negotiating skills into the national issue regarding compensation for student athletes. He has spent the last several years advancing the cause of Division I athletes to receive compensation for their contribution to the multi-million dollar sports industry that cashes in on the backs of these talented athletes.

"I think the football and basketball athletes in the Power Five conferences meet the definition of 'employee' and therefore should be treated like the viable assets they are," he states. "They need someone to represent their interests. Power Five football and basketball programs are grossing $175 to $180 million. What are the athletes getting in return? Supposedly, the degree," he postulates. "But less than 40 percent of them get their degrees because they spend 40 to 50 hours per week practicing and playing their sports.

"I have some very strong opinions about this topic," he states emphatically. One may agree or disagree with Grantham, but he has points and counter-points that significantly back up his theory. "I think they [the student athletes] should get a trust fund at the start [of their college careers], and not be able to access it for 10 years, which will give it a chance to grow. And in ten years, they can access it, but they've got to have a degree." He stipulates that this could be part of a benefit package and therefore not subject to pay-for-play.

Furthermore, Grantham believes that the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), unions that support the goals of the professionals and protect their rights, should organize the college athletes. "The way they [could] organize them is by offering them free associate memberships to their [respective] unions and then fight the legal battles on their behalf."

Preparing Students for Life
Any pushback to Grantham's way of thinking merely stimulates his quick ability to cite political, analytical and/or statistical facts on which he bases his opinions. As a negotiator, he is prepared to argue his case and eloquently express the reasons why. He teaches this art of negotiation to his students.

One of Grantham's students, Farzad-Elhaam Kohzad (MBA/MA '18), currently pursuing a dual graduate degree in sport management and diplomacy, says about the negotiation course, "Professor Grantham's teaching style is very hands-on and engaging," he explains. He challenges us to figure things out on our own to see how far we can go." Kohzad also notes that the course is not always sports-related. "It requires you to understand your information thoroughly and to always be prepared to handle objections from the other party. There have been times where tension arose due to the tough nature of the [mock] negotiations, but in the end, it prepares you for life after college when you are faced with real-life situations, such as negotiating for your salary, a new car, a house, etc."

In the Beginning
Grantham's earlier background includes a combination of coaching and teaching. After obtaining his B.S. in social sciences from Cheyney State University in 1965, he started his career as a junior high school teacher and coach of football, track and basketball, at the Darby/Colwyn School District in Darby, Pennsylvania. "I was a social studies student-teacher at the school, and they wanted me to stay, but there were no social studies openings," he explains. "However, they told me, 'We do have a coaching job for you if you want to coach (which is what I wanted), but we saw that you took one course in special education. We have 50 kids in a special ed program…can you put one together?'"

He tells the story about how the majority of the "special ed" students he taught had significant behavior issues as opposed to learning disabilities. It became apparent that they were not college-bound students, and they clearly needed life skills and discipline.

"I took the boys down to the gym every morning at 8:00 and told them, 'Take your money out of your pockets and put it on the floor. Now, you're going to play me one-on-one [basketball] for the cash. If you can beat me, you get the money. If you don't beat me, I get the cash.' We did that almost every morning for several months. After I bet them and took their money, we went upstairs to the classroom where I told them, 'If you listen and learn, you'll get your money back. If not, it rolls over to tomorrow.'"

"One day," Grantham reminisces, 'it was maybe 20 years later, I was visiting the Philadelphia 76ers and working with the NBPA, and I get a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and see two policemen. The black policeman says, 'Mr. Grantham, do you remember me? I’m Richard! I was in your 7th grade class!' I looked at him and said, 'Richard? You mean they gave you a gun?'" Grantham laughs at the memory and elaborates on his teaching philosophy. "With every opportunity you have to seize the moment and think, 'How can I improve the lives of young people?'"

Following his job with Darby/Colwyn School District, Grantham went on to work in Philadelphia as a recruitment representative for General Electric Corporation, and after two years, joined RCA Corporation in Moorestown, New Jersey, as a senior recruiting representative for engineering personnel. From 1972 through 1978, Grantham served as admissions director at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and he obtained his M.B.A. from Wharton in 1973.

Improving Lives at Stillman and Beyond
In his capacity as a teacher, past and present, Grantham has certainly improved the lives of his students. As Evans puts it, "He helps me expand my personal brand. He gives us tools to add to our tool kits." She gushes without hesitation, "He's just a good person."

Grantham served as an adjunct professor at Stillman from 2004 through 2015. In fall 2016, he joined the full-time faculty roster. Joyce Strawser, Ph.D., Dean of the Stillman School says, "We feel so proud and honored to have Charlie on our team! The wealth of professional experience that he brings to his teaching role helps us deliver on Stillman's mission goal of transforming concepts into business practice."

In his role as a change-maker, he has improved the lives of the players he has represented, advised, and supported throughout the years. His reputation in the industry reflects staunch accolades from previous co-workers to some of the most prominent names in professional basketball.

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Charles Grantham (left) with Nelson Mandela at dinner in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1993.

Global Influence
Even on the world stage, Grantham has been recognized for his ability to bring his special brand of support and influence to important causes. The late Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid leader and philanthropist, requested the help of Grantham and then NBA Commissioner David Stern in 1993, prior to the South African presidential election (when Mandela was elected President). Grantham and Stern readily agreed to help Mandela.

"We were joined by several NBA players, including Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo," Grantham explains. "We were there to restore hope after the collapse of apartheid and to serve as an ‘inspiration for high aspiration’ for the South African youth. We gave clinics, met with African National Congress (ANC) representatives and sports officials about using sports as a change agent." Being included in such a momentous movement, Grantham claims, was the highlight of his life. "It laid the groundwork for what is now an annual summer NBA South African tour and game of NBA stars." Grantham continued to feel motivated by the connection with the powerful political leader until his demise in 2013.

"What the students say about me," he states, "that's how I felt about Mandela. I learned from him that the change is more important than my personal agenda."

With so much to offer, not only to Stillman and its students, but the University as a whole, Strawser reaffirms, "Charlie perfectly personifies the School's core values of integrity and professionalism, and he is thoroughly invested in the success of our programs and students. He's a wonderful role model for our entire community."

Grantham's wisdom and passion will undoubtedly continue to affect positive change for communities even beyond higher education, on local, regional and national levels. Charlie Grantham is indeed The Man.

Categories: Business

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