Timberwolves, Lynx New Chief Diversity Officer Sets Priorities
Behind the Timberwolves’ “Justice for all” response to the police shooting of Daunte Wright, the Lynx and Timberwolves donating food, medical supplies, and money to those in need, and numerous other community outreach efforts in just the last 18 months alone comes a commitment from the front office to let players lead. Championing that approach is Tru Pettigrew, who was promoted this week to chief diversity and inclusion officer for the organization. Previously the Timberwolves vice president of player programs with a focus on diversity and inclusion, Pettigrew’s new role encompasses all four franchises: Timberwolves, Lynx, Iowa Wolves and T-Wolves Gaming. He will also support equity training and planning for parent company, Taylor Corp.
“In a short period of time, Tru has provided meaningful guidance and value to our business and basketball operations areas, and we are thrilled to welcome him to our executive team,” Timberwolves and Lynx CEO Ethan Casson said in a statement. “With Tru at the forefront of our DEI efforts, he will have an even stronger impact across our organization and community.”
Pettigrew shared some thoughts with TCB about his goals.
Your entire organization has been extremely active and engaged in community support since the start of the pandemic, and following the murder of George Floyd. TCB even recognized the Timberwolves and Lynx with a Community Impact Award for civic engagement. Who is driving that?
I really want to give the players all the credit. They have the vision. My role is to be a sounding board and contribute some perspective to that vision, and how it can come to life in the most impactful way possible. It really is a full team effort.
Do you see a shift in the way players are using their platform to draw attention to social issues?
More CEOs and owners are becoming vocal. A lot of it is led by the players—largely because a lot of the players come from communities where the adverse effects of injustice are still reflective in their communities. If there is a shift, there’s more support now for those voices—giving more voice to the players and allowing them to humanize themselves. A lot of CEOs are corporate partners are now coming along side.
The NBA seems to be particularly forward thinking when it comes to social issues—why do you think that is?
The league recognizes that this really important to players and they’re taking a more vested interest in understanding the root causes. As we start to peel back the layers, they see, wow, these are real injustices, real disparities, real challenges that need to be addressed. I give the players a lot of credit, and the NBA has done a good job of recognizing it.
So what’s on your to-do list in your new role?
Working very closely with a few colleagues, like chief people officer Sianneh Mulbah, to establish a baseline: Where are we in our breadth of diversity as an organization? Where are we with people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, generational diversity? Really getting a baseline of what our makeup of diversity looks like and where we’re falling short. We need to know where we are so we can know if we’re making progress.I want to make sure we have community partners in place, to help provide a diverse talent pipeline and pathways to employment for diverse talent.
I’m also working with Jen Ridgeway, EVP of social responsibility, to identify who those partners are, and how we can use our platform, our position as a major sports program in this market. How can we lend ourselves to the areas that rally help members of our society succeed?
Public safety, health and human services, education—these are the areas where we want to make sure we’re doing our best to support those marginalized groups that are not getting those types of services—the ones really suffering the most. How can we make sure we level the playing field?
I also work with players to help them identify where they want to channel their passions and energies.
Do players seek your advice on community involvement?
We want to be able to bring them opportunities. A lot of times, they are raising their hands and asking, “Is there a way I can be more involved?” Most want to do something, and I encourage them: Do whatever is right for you. Be an advocate, an ally, an activist, or be some combination of the three. But do what makes sense to you. Because they are so high provide, people project expectations. I want to make sure it feels right.
“The people on receiving end of marginalization…are the ones best positioned to identify what the solutions need to be.”
What about for you, personally. You have access to all the decision makers and often a seat at the table where topics like public safety are being discussed. How will you use it?
There are people who think I should be much more involved on front lines of demonstrations and protests, but that’s not where you’re typically going to find me. My role is an advocate. I want to make sure I have a full understanding of why these inequities exist and then make sure I’m educating and empowering those that are in positions of power and influence to effect change from a policy standpoint.
My role is primarily to be a bridge builder—helping those in positions of power and influence recognize that the people on receiving end of marginalization and discrimination—the people feeling that sting the most—are the ones best positioned to identify what the solutions need to be. Bringing them together so that those in positions of power aren’t just projecting what they think the solution should be without the voice of those who are feeling the marginalization and discrimination. Decisions need to be made through an equity lens. I’m there to question: is there a specific group who will benefit more? Is there a specific group of people who this decision will have a more adverse impact on? Sometimes, we can be blinded by our own ignorance. Even though there is a desire to fix problems, until we hear the voices of those suffering the most, we won’t be informed enough to know what the solutions should be.
Is this where you saw your career headed?
I did not expect this is where it would land! I went to college for electrical engineering, graduated and decided I did not want to do that. I moved to L.A. to pursue a career in rap music. I happened into advertising while pursuing dream to become a multiplatinum rap artist (laughs). Most of my professional career has been in marketing and through that work I got interested in building bridges across all kinds of divides.
Your office, your arena is downtown Minneapolis, which is struggling to bounce back from the pandemic, from last summer’s social unrest and from negative public perceptions. How does the city get back on track?
We’re working with the Minneapolis Downtown Council and all the other sports teams. We’re asking: Why is there still this feeling of being unsafe? To me, everything starts with why. When you don’t have clarity of understanding, division, discord, disfunction is inevitable. Right now, we’re working on a series of courageous conversations with law enforcement and community. We’ve got to rebuild bridges of trust, legitimacy and understanding. Policing is best accomplished when it’s done with the community, not to a community. We’re all in this together.