49ers STEAM Program Participates in Smithsonian Workshop

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sports is a cultural common denominator. It’s a love language for some, a way of life for others, and welcome distraction for many. The games we play—and watch—have become much bigger than the numbers on the scoreboards, the women and men in the uniforms, and those observing in person or at home. Sports has unquestionably become one of the most honest and all-encompassing reflections on modern society that exist in our country today; it is a lens through which our society can observe itself, both at its best and … at times … its worst.

Innovation and technology are as much a part of the evolution of sports and entertainment as rules, venues, and business models. The industries that flourish through the cracks of our myriad professional and amateur sports leagues are continuously shaped by how our world improves its devices and experiences.  It is for those reasons that the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History amassed a litany of experts from around the country to address the impact of sport and innovation on society at its Invention, Sport, Technology, and Society workshop on September 7 and 8 in Washington, D.C.  Further, it is a testament to the forward-thinking and paradigm-changing ethos of its work that the 49ers STEAM Education Program was chosen to participate in this gathering and present its blueprint for a successful marriage of football and STEAM education—as a means to further engage and inspire the public—alongside such entities as the U.S. Department of State, Hendrick Motorsports, NBA Entertainment, the University of Pennsylvania, STRIVR Virtual Reality and scores of others.

“We always knew the STEAM program was something special, and that it is improving the quality of education in the Bay Area for both students and educators,” said Al Guido, President of the San Francisco 49ers. “But we never understood how much our innovative approach to serving our community in this way would spurn industry-wide interest in our model and the ways in which it can benefit learners and educational ecosystems all around the world.”

The Lemelson Center’s workshop is the beginning of a much larger, multi-year initiative to study the impact of invention, technology, and innovation in sport at the Smithsonian. The Lemelson Center will use the research and knowledge developed through this effort to engage the public in a dialogue about the impact of sport and invention in society through exhibitions, public programs, publications, and digital outlets. To launch the sport initiative, the workshop brought together a diverse group of inventors, scholars, athletes, educators, policy makers, and museum professionals.

“True innovation is an intelligent, complex, and inherently human activity,” said Jeff Brodie, Deputy Director of the Lemelson Center for Innovation. “When we began to look at the history of sports, invention, and technology, we realized that having a group of multi-faceted folks with different perspectives involved with the discussion would help us understand things better and ultimately engage the public in a more meaningful way with our exhibits and content. This workshop brings athletes, scholars, media members, technology innovators, and others together to help us tell a complete and comprehensive story about the history of sports and innovation, and involve the public in the process.”

The workshop included discussions on: How the invention and propagation of new materials and equipment have improved athletic performance; The impact of advances in knowledge and new technologies related to nutrition, medicine, safety, and health change on the core concepts of the “natural” body, fitness and competition; The ways inventions and technology enhance or replace human creativity and expertise in sport; And the right mechanisms with which to engage the public in this discussion. It is that last category that called the 49ers STEAM program to the table, to discuss how sports can be an effective and game-changing way to introduce learning concepts—specifically STEAM—to youth.

“We operate a game-changing way to open kids’ eyes to what STEAM looks like in real life, and to inspire them to pursue the subjects as they move forward in their educational lives,” said Jesse Lovejoy, Director of STEAM Education for the 49ers. “We are just now coming to fully appreciate the interest with which the world is increasingly looking at programs like ours, both for what they do and the way they do it.  Sports entities, teams, museums, and other organizations are increasingly reaching out to understand our work and the benefits our programming provides young people, educators and the community at large. We are honored to be here in a venue like the Smithsonian, engaging others to inspire them to do similar things in their markets.”

The attendees of the event were diverse, and represented all areas of the sports world – from academics to inventors to sports media. Taylor Bloom, Co-Founder of SportTechie —a burgeoning media outlet covering the convergence of sports, technology and media—was in D.C. to both cover the event and announce his outlets’ partnership with the Lemelson Center on the multi-year initiative.

“In the last five to ten years, we have seen sports technology become a full-blown industry, and there is no better indication of that shift and sports technology’s relevance in society than to have as revered an institution as the Smithsonian call together a group like this,” said Taylor Bloom, Co-Founder of SportTechie. “It is exciting and validating to be a part of the Lemelson Center’s process for analyzing invention, sport, technology, and society, and we look forward to continuing to fuel an educated conversation about the trajectory of this industry.”

While in Washington, D.C., Lovejoy also met with the After School Alliance and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, to continue discussions around how the 49ers STEAM Education Program can advance the creation of learning opportunities for young people across the country. In partnership with groups like these, along with well-known local Bay Area enities such as Techbridge Girls, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, the CDE Foundation, and others, the team hopes its work can continue to reach and inspire hundreds of thousands of students annually.

“We do our work and appear at conferences like this for one simple reason—to inspire as many young people to believe in themselves and pour themselves into education as possible,” said Lovejoy. “We are very lucky that the platform we have—being one of the biggest brands in sports playing in the most innovative stadium in the world—allows us an opportunity to open doors and share our work. It is our opportunity and obligation to ensure that once we walk in that door, we bring expertise, dedication to the student experience, and a true desire to effect positive change. That is our charge and that is our promise.”

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