Rolling Out

Major League Soccer’s EVP, DEI officer Sola Winley bridges racial equality gap

In 1 of the most diverse sports leagues, Sola Winley is committed to making change

In a move to promote racial equality in soccer and society, Major League Soccer‘s Executive Vice President and Chief Engagement and Inclusion Officer, Sola Winley, spearheaded the introduction of a special edition T-shirt on June 19 to celebrate Juneteenth. The T-shirt, emblazoned with “I AM #19,” honors the historic holiday and underscores the league’s commitment to bridging the racial equality gap.

Winley spoke with rolling out about what MLS is doing to amplify the message of freedom of change, and what role he plays in the initiative.

In a sport that’s so diverse, why was it important to have an initiative like this?

I’m thrilled for the league. I’m thrilled for our players. I’m thrilled for our fans. The contributions that Black Players for Change (BPC) has had on the league have been significant. They’re terrific partners; they’re thought partners; and they work with us on policy changes, as well as on fun campaigns and activations like Juneteenth.

Their energy and their aspiration, first and foremost, was rooted in making sure that there was equality and equitable opportunity for Black players and the front office staff. However, it extends beyond that — that’s what this campaign was about. It was inviting all 900-plus players, all of our fans and people around the world to join us. It’s the players who have the power to make change happen, and fans listen to players. This was an invitation for all to join hands and lock arms to create a world that we all feel supported in, that we all feel that we can contribute to and that we all feel that we are a part of.

What was your role in this initiative?

My job has a lot of challenges, but it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been fortunate in my career to work in two industries that have a pretty big microphone, sports and entertainment. As human beings, we live through stories and we live through storytelling. Stories that are passed on from generation to generation, the story about your life, the story about my life, and we get to bring important stories to the world, and the story that we get to bring to the world and the work that I have is really about impacting people’s lives.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to be in positions of service. I share that same spirit with my team: we are here to serve the league and to make sure that we create opportunities for people to be their very best [selves], whether that’s on the pitch, whether that’s in the community or whether that’s in our front office.

Why is DEI important in the sports world?

I think inclusion is not just important to talk about, but inclusion is important for us to live in action. For many, it’s just a word — and for many, DEI is a word that’s triggering. However, if you look at the root of what inclusion is all about, it’s the fact that we’re all interconnected. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about [it], the interconnectedness of us all. From a business perspective, research has repeatedly proven — over 200 research articles have been written [on the topic — the power of inclusion as it’s related to the bottom line. Inclusion [is] inherent. Who we are as human beings — if we move from a place of confidence and we move from a place of stability and not from fear — we realize that we get much further together than we do divided.

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