Civic Engagement: Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx
As the pandemic forced the NBA to suspend its season last year, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx each started to assess what the teams could do for their community. In the process, both arguably have become a social service organization.
CEO Ethan Casson says that everyone in the operation, from staff to players, felt “like they had a responsibility to do their part to help.”
Tallying a list of all of the teams’ community efforts over the last year could fill a short book. For starters, owner Glen Taylor put up $1 million as a safety-net relief fund for Target Center’s part-time workers who suddenly had no games to work.
Then the teams started donating thousands of pounds of food to community organizations and working with the Prairie Island Indian Community to donate care packages to tribal elders. They collaborated with the governor’s office and the Minnesota Department of Health on public service announcements to help get the word out about isolating at home and wearing masks. The teams held a Red Cross blood drive at Target Center.
Karl-Anthony Towns donated $100,000 to Mayo Clinic to support more Covid testing. Both his parents had Covid, and his mother, Jackie, died of it in April 2020.
“Certainly, Karl stepped up,” says Casson. “That became a very personal mission to him.”
Maybe the biggest surprise was the Timberwolves’ unlikely contribution to medicine led by Dr. Robby Sikka, vice president of basketball performance and technology.
“He’s led the research alongside Yale University to create a quicker test for the public, called SalivaDirect, which to date has now served more than 6 million tests across the country,” Casson says. “It’s something that we’ve been using as an organization.”
The killing of George Floyd in May 2020 was another call to action for the teams to connect with their community.
“We had a responsibility again to use our platform to talk about social justice,” says Casson.
In June 2020 the teams partnered with New York-based RISE to develop programs to fight racial discrimination, improve race relations and champion justice. In August, the teams launched “Voices,” a YouTube series to feature players talking about social justice issues, racism, and more.
Amid the pandemic and the aftermath of Floyd’s killing, there was also an election. The teams suited up for that one, too, creating Pack the Vote, an initiative to increase voter registration, with a primary focus on people in under-resourced neighborhoods.
Casson says that the teams’ efforts to help in the short term are leading to long-term changes.
“We serve the community in which we play … we’ve learned things along the way that we’re not doing enough of,” Casson says. “[Some of] these will be permanent initiatives and platforms that will live within our organization from this point forward.”