AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

The University of Southern California has produced more Olympians, gold medal winners, and overall medalists than any other university in the U.S. It also has the third-highest number of NCAA championships across sports, the most Heisman Trophy winners, and a bold new plan to innovate and expand its already impressive athletics facilities. In short, USC is an undisputed, internationally respected sports powerhouse. Likewise, one of its centers is an unrivaled diversity, equity, and inclusion powerhouse.

The USC Race and Equity Center has worked with more than 700 educational institutions, businesses, government agencies, and other organizations across an expansive array of industries, including intercollegiate and professional sports. The Center is also engaged in an extensive, multiyear DEI partnership with Nike. With its latest hire and exciting plans to expand its sports-focused activities, the Los Angeles-based predominantly people of color organization has cemented its position as a global leader at the intersection of DEI and sports.

Last August, ESPN did an extensive feature on Justin Morrow, an extraordinarily accomplished professional athlete who played 12 seasons on two Major League Soccer teams. Today, the USC Race and Equity Center announced that Morrow has joined its team as the inaugural Head of Sports Programs and Partnerships. DEI-focused strategy consultation, leadership coaching, workplace culture and climate assessments, coalition building, and high-quality professional learning experiences will be offered to intercollegiate and pro sports organizations through the new portfolio Morrow leads.

“When I first learned about the USC Race and Equity Center, I knew I had to be involved,” says Morrow. “I am so excited to lead in this space, learn from my brilliant colleagues, and continue my longtime passion of building community as we bring DEI expertise to all levels of sports.”

Morrow played on the Toronto soccer team that won the 2017 MLS championship. In 2021, he received the MLS Humanitarian of the Year Award. After retirement, Morrow seamlessly transitioned to a management role in Toronto Football Club’s front office. His responsibilities quickly expanded to include leadership for the organization’s DEI activities. “One of my goals is to unite and empower the growing community of DEI leaders in sports,” Morrow notes. “I experienced firsthand as a front office executive how much the USC Race and Equity Center’s resources and knowledge can aid their work.” In his capacity as the Center’s new sports head, Morrow has already begun cultivating a network of sports professionals serving in DEI positions.

Major League Baseball executive Matthew Grimes, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Cleveland Guardians, contends, “I have seen a huge demand for greater interprofessional collaboration among DEI practitioners in professional sports. Oftentimes, DEI work can feel isolating without the proper networks and communities of practice. Justin’s new role at the USC Race and Equity Center will provide a much-needed conduit for all professional sports teams to engage more meaningfully and deeply in DEI work.”


Network cultivation isn’t new for Morrow, a 35-year-old Cleveland native and former University of Notre Dame student-athlete. He’s one of the founders of Black Players for Change, an independent organization consisting of more than 170 MLS players, coaches, and staff working together in pursuit of racial justice. Black Players for Change officially launched just three weeks after George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Morrow and the other founders were committed to leveraging their personal platforms as well as the MLS brand to do something meaningful and sustainable. Three years later, the organization’s leadership and commitment endure.

Even though the portfolio Morrow leads is new, the Center’s work at the intersection of DEI and sports isn’t. Over its 12-year lifespan, numerous sports organizations have relied on its experts and resources. One of the Center’s latest reports, Advancing and Sustaining Racial Justice in Pro Sports, was released at an NFL event during Superbowl LVI week and has since received extensive coverage in the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Forbes, and other media outlets. Also, over the past decade, the Center has published four editions of Black Male Student-Athletes and Racial Inequities in NCAA Division I College Sports.

Center staff and researchers have worked in various capacities with the NFL, WNBA, Major League Soccer, National Women’s Soccer League, and dozens of intercollegiate athletics departments. Shaun Harper, the Center’s founder and executive director, has led many of those projects and partnerships.

A tenured professor in the USC Rossier School of Education and USC Marshall School of Business, Harper is the most-cited scholar on college sports. His 12 books include Scandals in College Sports. He is currently co-writing a book on name, image, and likeness in intercollegiate athletics. He served three years on USC’s faculty oversight committee for athletic academic affairs, including one as its chair. Harper also has taught semester-long courses on student-athletes and sports administration at USC, University of Pennsylvania, and Indiana University. He has been interviewed on ESPN. In addition, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, Bleacher Report, Andscape, HBO Sports, and numerous other media outlets have featured Harper and highlighted the Center’s DEI-focused sports work.

Morrow, Harper, and center researchers recently designed and administered a quantitative survey to all current players in three pro sports leagues. This research aimed to determine what racial justice activities occurred within and between leagues in 2020, as well as what players and their teams are doing now. Morrow and two USC Ph.D. students subsequently conducted qualitative interviews with current and former players, sports executives, nonprofit leaders, journalists, agents, and coaches. Insights from this research will partially inform the Center’s future pro sports strategies and services.

“No one in the world was a more obvious choice for this important leadership role in our center than Justin,” asserts Harper. “He will lead a team that designs and effectively executes winning DEI plays for sports teams and leagues. I know for sure that Justin will uphold our center’s excellent reputation, deepen our expertise, and extend the reach of our longstanding, high-quality DEI work in sports.”