Welcoming Brené Brown to UT’s Center for Sports Leadership + Innovation

by Dana Kent Maass on October 21, 2019 in Lifestyle, Sports, What I'm Reading, Austin,

On the evening of October 29th, the University of Texas at Austin will welcome one of its favorite Texas Exes back to the Forty Acres. 

Brené Brown is headlining the “iLead Speaker Series,” presented by the Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation. Author of five No. 1 New York Times Best Sellers, Dr. Brown is also a research professor at the University of Houston. Well known for her twenty years’ work on vulnerability, courage, empathy and shame, Brown has been turning the tides of leadership in a myriad of arenas, from academics, to corporate America, and athletics. Now she is bringing her message back to her beloved alma mater and a group of young, budding student athletic leaders.

The Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation (CSLi) is the first of its kind, founded at UT in 2014 by Daron K. Roberts, also a former Longhorn and athlete. Roberts is no stranger to taking chances and leaps of faith, risking failure and coping with generous doses of rejection have shaped his life story.

Founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation (CSLi) at the University of Texas, Daron K. Roberts, speaking to students. Photo Callie Richmond Photography

With an education from the Harvard School of Law, Roberts chose to enroll in the school of hard knocks when he cast aside any Wall Street aspirations for a long shot at coaching football in the NFL. Roberts laid his entire future (and massive student loan debt from law school) on the line to send out 32 letters, one to every team in the NFL, asking for the opportunity to join their coaching staff. His letters yielded one lonely “yes,” which began a grueling, unpaid internship with the Kansas City Chiefs. That one “yes” laid the foundation for Roberts to follow his life’s passion for motivating young men and women to excel as athletes, scholars and human beings. 

Fast-forward to 2019, and Daron is living his passion. Five years after its launch, his CSLi program is thriving, facilitating the interpersonal and leadership skills of UT’s student athletes, both inside their given competitive arenas and beyond the campus. Every UT freshman on a sports team, whether football or gymnastics, is required to take a CSLi course which concentrates heavily on personal development. 

Daron K. Roberts and basketball star Kevin Durant, who played one season of college basketball for the University of Texas, and was selected as the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft. Callie Richmond Photography

Brené Brown’s work has had a major impact on the program. “When I returned to UT, my wife handed me [a copy of Brown’s book] Daring Greatly,” explains Roberts. “I thought vulnerability and empathy were really the crux, and I started integrating her research into all of my classes at UT.”

In Daring Greatly, Brown discusses how to use vulnerability as a tool for building strength and resilience, rather than a sign of weakness. This concept naturally complements Roberts’ mission for the CSLi program, both at UT and in the surrounding communities. Roberts has launched the Captains’ Academy program, where 150 high school varsity sports leaders have the opportunity to visit the campus of UT and receive the same lessons in vulnerability and strength as the collegiate counterparts. Roberts believes that young athletes can’t start learning these principles too soon, part of the paradigm shift that Brené Brown describes as “lifting the veil of toughness” to build character. “What we call soft skills, are in reality some of the hardest skills to obtain and master,” says Roberts. “I wanted to create a classroom experience that I was missing as an undergraduate, and it starts with vulnerability.”

Past speakers in the iLead series include Kevin Durant, Aly Raisman, Shaun White, Mia Hamm and Colt McCoy. These individuals have directed attention toward important issues impacting their representative sports and society as a whole. Brené Brown is expected to inspire her audience to Dare to Lead, and follow in the footsteps of great leaders who find the courage to pave future roads for positive change. If what starts at UT changes the world, then the eyes of Texas will surely be upon this very special event.


Cover photo of Brené Brown courtesy Maile Wilson

Dana Kent Maass is an occupational therapist who lives with her Longhorn-loving husband Brian and dog Chester in Round Rock, Texas. She enjoys travel writing, community service, interesting people, and college sports. Especially her own LSU Tigers.