Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE — With sports now a multi-billion dollar industry, it is increasingly important for teams and athletes to make better decisions and to become more involved in community service to uphold the image of their organization or university.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, announced today the creation of the new UT Institute for Leadership, Ethics and Diversity in Sport (I-LEAD) to provide cross-disciplinary training and research to meet the changing demands of the global sport and leisure industry.

I-LEAD is directed by Fritz Polite, assistant professor of exercise, sport and leisure studies in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. Polite joined the UT faculty in 2006 after serving as associate director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

“This institute, under the expert guidance of Dr. Fritz Polite, will serve as a model for building a bridge between academics and athletics on major university campuses across the country,” said Bob Rider, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. “The ultimate beneficiaries will be our students, who will model the essential attributes of leadership, ethics and diversity.”

The institute is a collaboration between the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences and the College of Business Administration with support from the College of Communication and Information and UT Athletics.

At the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida, Polite worked under director Richard Lapchick on well-publicized studies about race and gender, graduation rates and hiring practices.

“With the alarming rate of incidents involving athletes, it is imperative that we attempt to provide a positive moral compass for leaders to follow. I-LEAD will provide a platform for open dialogue, symposiums and research in the areas of leadership, ethics and diversity. It will be the only one of its kind that attempts to blend all three facets,” Polite said.

I-LEAD will conduct research related to leadership, ethics and diversity, provide ways for students to become involved in community service and offer courses, workshops and speakers to help develop students into future leaders in sport, leisure, physical activity and business.

While forming I-LEAD, Polite sought input from many leaders on campus, including the directors of UT Athletics.

“We are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to work with the campus community. This is a great opportunity for us to help our future leaders prepare for their next step in life,” said Mike Hamilton, director of men’s athletics.

Joan Cronan, director of women’s athletics, added, “UT has always been progressive in our relationship between academics and athletics. This is just one more way we can continue to support academics.”

I-LEAD will build upon a dual-degree program in sport management offered through the College of Business Administration and the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.

“It is a natural match for us to collaborate on issues such as leadership, diversity, and ethics — all of which are concerns in the corporate environment, as well as sport. We look forward to continuing to grow that relationship,” said Sarah Gardial, associate dean in the College of Business Administration.

Examples of future activities for I-LEAD could include:

• Continuing to provide selected students a trip to the Super Bowl to learn the inner-workings of the event
• Beginning a sport business management collaboration in South Korea
• Offering community service trips to places such as New Orleans and Mississippi communities to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina
• Conducting conferences or symposia with well-known speakers in the fields of business, sports and entertainment
• Creating a youth leadership development program focusing on mentoring and life skills
• Expanding Project GRAD, a program at Knoxville high schools to encourage graduation

Joy DeSensi, head of the department of exercise, sport and leisure studies, believes I-LEAD can be a key link between theory and practice for intercollegiate athletics and sport business.

“This innovative institute will have far-reaching and positive educational implications for our students and the broad community served by the University of Tennessee,” she said.


Fritz Polite, (865) 974-1276,

Elizabeth Davis, UT Media Relations, (865) 974-5179,