GSMP 2015 Site Visits: Najat AlSayegh at San Antonio SpursBy Brian Canever October 28, 2015
It isn’t often that the four teams owned and operated by Spurs Sports & Entertainment aren’t filling an arena somewhere in San Antonio. From basketball to ice hockey, the San Antonio Spurs (NBA), San Antonio Rampage (AHL), San Antonio Silver Stars (WNBA) and Austin Spurs (NBA Development League) are the primary sources of sports entertainment in South Texas.
But, as Najat AlSayegh and her mentor, Laura Dixon, executive director of community responsibility for SS&E, join us inside the organization’s temporary offices beside the AT&T Center three weeks prior to the the Spurs’ season opener, the only commotion outside is the sound of construction crews.
“The time Najat’s been here has probably been the only time all year that one of our teams isn’t in season,” Laura said.
Najat, who works for the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs in Kuwait, has absorbed so much from her mentor and her staff that she’s barely noticed the lack of games in the background.
On the second-to-last Site Visit of the 2015 U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman, co-directors of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society, and I, sat down with the two women to discuss the importance of female leadership, working together and leaving a legacy.
“What we’ve really spent time talking about is Najat’s story,” Laura said. “So many nuances of her story are compelling. I’m excited for people to know why she’s passionate about what she’s doing and how the seeds she’s planting today will grow in the next 25 or 50 years.”
Najat is only 27 years old, but already has many stories to tell. When she was a girl she was excluded from saluting the Kuwaiti flag in her school because of her gender. She protested until she was given the chance to stand with the boys at the front of the classroom. And, in a country where traditional expectations of women still reign, Najat continues to stand for gender equality and opportunities for women and girls. Outside of her role at the Ministry, Najat is a wakeboarder and Crossfit instructor, and hopes to become the first female prime minister of Kuwait.
“I think our Kuwaiti grandmothers paved the path for me, starting in the 1950s,” Najat said. “They were the first women in the region to be educated and fight for political and social rights. Now it’s my turn to continue their journey, to fight for the rights of future young girls and to empower the women in my society.”
Laura understands what it’s like to be the only woman in a male-dominated field. She advises Najat, one of very few young women working in the Kuwaiti government, to make the most of male alliances, and to find partners like the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, who rewarded the hard work of Becky Hammon by making her the first female assistant coach in NBA history.
“Without men and women supporting and encouraging each other, it makes life harder,” Laura said. “It makes everything we’re trying to do more difficult. The less it is about male and female roles and the more it’s about working toward a common role, the better off we are.”
Najat is in full agreement and has vowed never to give up in the pursuit of equality and inclusion through sport, education, and legislation, regardless of how long it takes her.
“I want the whole world to be more accepting to other religions and ideas,” Najat said. “It doesn’t matter what your last name is or your gender. There are a lot of wars and unnecessary political issues that could be solved if we just accept our differences — accept that, in the end, we are all are human.”
Listen to the Center’s podcast conversation with Najat and Laura at the link below