Olympian Anita DeFrantz speaks to UMass community: ‘Olympic Thought: Critical or Not?’

‘We seem to have lost the ability as a nation to engage in critical thought,’ DeFrantz said

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Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

By Catherine Hanewich, Collegian Contributor

Former Olympic rower and Olympic Organizing Committee member Anita DeFrantz believes that critical thinking is a skill that much of America is struggling to master, or so she said at her talk the University of Massachusetts.

At the Mark H. McCormack Sport Innovators Lecture, DeFrantz spoke to sport management students about the critical thinking she used during her involvement in the Olympic Movement and her experience living in the Olympic Village.

DeFrantz opened up the lecture, which took place in late October, by telling students that the idea of critical thought was introduced to her by her mother.

“I learned that critical thought meant examining facts, to come to a position on an issue, and, dear friends, we seem to have lost the ability as a nation to engage in critical thought,” she began.

DeFrantz also spoke about the importance of critical thinking in a healthy democracy. You are my future, you are the leaders of my future, and I beg of you to protect democracy, and you can do it by learning to use that muscle of critical thought,” DeFrantz said.

“It’s essential. And you might even enjoy doing it, and you also have to be prepared to make decisions. That’s what democracy requires.”

After the event, several sports management students explained how they plan to use critical thinking in their own lives. Brianna Fevrier, a junior marketing and sports management double major was in attendance on Tuesday.

“I think keeping this speech and everything she said in the back of my mind,” Fevrier said, will help her use critical thinking in the future as a way to push herself.

Lauren Vineberg, a junior sports management and finance major, plans to use critical thinking to “make sure we are doing both what is best for us academically and for career wise and all-around mental health as well.”

Jason Weinhaus, a junior sports management and marketing double major, said critical thinking “was very interesting, especially because people don’t always agree with each other.”

“If people end up using critical thinking,” Weinhaus said, “I think more people will end up agreeing on different aspects about sport.”

Samuel Beatty, a junior sports management major, said he sees using critical thinking “to not only open up the floor, but create conversations with colleagues and coworkers and classmates.

“It really just begins to open my eyes up, and just allows people to have conversation,” Beatty continued.

In addition to critical thinking, DeFrantz spoke about her experience living in the Olympic Village. “It was magical for me, living in the Olympic Village, where there were people of all skin tones, both sexes, people who were tall, short, heavy-set or slender, all lived together in the Olympic Village — lived together in peace and mutual respect.”

“It was the first time I realized that a better world was possible,” DeFrantz said. “I say, if we can do that for a few weeks, we should be able to do it forever.”

The culture of the Olympic Village played a role in DeFrantz’s decision to become a part of the Olympic movement. “I wanted the world to be like an Olympic Village, where everyone was respected and we recognize that people come from different backgrounds, but we should offer respect. It hasn’t happened yet, but I hope that it will.”

The Olympic Movement is an organization that aims to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced in accordance with Olympism and its values,” according to its website.

In her lecture, DeFrantz said part of being an Olympian is being “able to have empathy for others.”

“That’s why, I say, the Olympic movement is based on mutual respect and fair play,” she continued. “Those principles are essential of why the games have lasted so long.”

At the end of the speech, DeFrantz was given the Executive-in-Residence award. This fall, she is the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sports Management Executive-in-Residence at the Isenberg School of Management.

Catherine Hanewich can be reached at [email protected].