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The Equity League: Wisconsin's top sports teams form social justice effort together

Milwaukee Bucks
Posted at 9:59 AM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 10:59:25-05

MILWAUKEE — The Green Bay Packers, The Milwaukee Bucks, and the Milwaukee Brewers are teaming up and partnering with Microsoft Corporation to form the Equity League, defined by these partners as “an investment collaboration for social change.”

Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin called it the kind of thing his players and people in the organization have been looking for.

“It really solved a lot of things we’re looking to do,” Feigin said in an exclusive interview with TMJ4 News ahead of Tuesday’s announcement. “We want to promote diversity of thought and experience. We want to look at investments. We want to have scalable social change. It was kind of pretty exciting. We were in on the first date.”

That “first date” was a phone call with Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy. Murphy soon brought the Brewers into the conversation as well in calling President of Business Operations, Rick Schlesinger. “Pretty easy for us to buy into,” Schlesinger said of that initial talk.

The members of this exclusive presidents club in Wisconsin have grown closer since the summer and the explosion of the social justice movement in sports. The Bucks were already active in demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but things reached a new height in August.

The police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha prompted Bucks players not to take the floor for a playoff game. Feign called it, “a moment in history.” He revealed that shortly after, the Bucks were fielding calls from fellow Wisconsin athletes on the Brewers and the Packers, who would follow with similar demonstrations.

Milwaukee Bucks
FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2020, file photo, members of the Milwaukee Bucks join arms as they kneel during the national anthem before an NBA basketball first round playoff game against the Orlando Magic Saturday, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Ahead of Labor Day, major U.S. labor unions say they are considering work stoppages in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The unions say they're following the lead of professional athletes who last week staged strikes to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

“Christian Yelich, Aaron Rodgers, Kris Middleton,” were in contact according to Feigin. So too, were leaders from each team. “We had a call within a few days with a dozen of us that were the coaches, GM’s and the three of us on the phone. How can we organize? How can we support? How can we resource? That alone had never happened before.”

The Brewers boycotting their next game in support of the Bucks stand, was not a difficult decision, according to Schlesinger. “I think everybody understands that there are serious issues, locally and, not just in Kenosha, not just in Milwaukee, not just in Wisconsin. But, everybody recognizes there’s got to be some systemic changes.”

Watch Vince's full interview with members of The Equity League below:

The Equity League full interview: Wisconsin's top sports teams form social justice effort together

Murphy, whose packers did not take the field for a scheduled training camp workout, shared it was, “…as emotional as I’ve seen our team.” He said he spent more than an hour in conversation with the players and coaches. “Our white players and black players were all in unison. What I came away with was, it was kind of an attitude of enough is enough. We need to stop talking and actually start doing things.”

Here we are, back to today.

The Packers already had a partnership with Microsoft in forming TitletownTech. Equity League will be a division within, described by Director Israel Squires as, “an investment network. It’s a VC (venture capital) play. We’re looking to build a portfolio of impact driven technology companies with a focus on Black and LatinX founders. It’s a long term play, hoping to play a role in and be a catalyst for change in the venture capital space.”

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The Green Bay Packers, The Milwaukee Bucks, and the Milwaukee Brewers are teaming up and partnering with Microsoft Corporation to form the Equity League.

TitletownTech Director of Finance and Investments Cordero Barkley is a Racine native, and is in rare company as an African American with a finance and banking background in Green Bay. “Capital doesn’t flow, especially in the startup community, to certain groups of people. You look at people of color. They don’t get the same access to the same funds or the same technology for the same types of problems they’re solving.”

Microsoft is millions of dollars deep into TitletownTech, and anxious to double down on the model, in this case, developing this fund with a conscience. Microsoft President, Brad Smith also joined the interview. “I’ll say for somebody like me who grew up in Wisconsin but lives in Seattle, TitletownTech has made very clear there is great entrepreneurial talent across the State of Wisconsin.”

Smith, is an Appleton native, now leading one of the planet’s largest companies. He says Microsoft is using tech to create a more equitable society. “I think sometimes people say, ‘I don’t understand this. I don’t discriminate.’ But I think it’s important to recognize that all of these centuries have left us with these barriers that people of color need to overcome.”

Wisconsin's top sports teams form social justice effort together

Smith said only one percent of venture capital funding typically flows to Black founders and only two percent to LatinX founders, and he says the problem is systemic. “At Microsoft, we see it across the Country. If you’re a young, Black

student, you’re far less likely to even have the chance to study something like computer science in high school. So this really fits into a broader array of the steps we need to take.”

So what steps do inventors, entrepreneurs, dreamers need to take? Connect with Equity League. They’re looking for startups with a business plan. And if you don’t have one, and you’re right for the fund, they’ll help you build one.

They’re planning a Milwaukee office in addition to the TitletownTech headquarters in Green Bay. They’re also counting on the Packers, Bucks, and Brewers in delivering investors… including their current and former players.

All three team presidents know some fans wonder why they don’t stick to sports. All three spoke of social and community responsibility. Schlesinger put it this way, “Our Ballpark was funded by the people of Wisconsin. We are supported by the people of Wisconsin. We always want to give back. To me, this is a meaningful way to do it, but an impactful way and frankly a unique way.”

Unique indeed. There is no other collaboration like this in professional sports. Though the true impact will not be immediate, like donating to a local charity, all involved hope it will be deeper and longer-lasting.

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