ESPN is investing in another sport -- but this one won't put them in the midst of bidding wars with other networks.
The sports network announced Friday that it is teaming up with the Special Olympics to encourage more people to sign up for unified sports, which join athletes with and without disabilities to play on the same team.
The announcement came at an event in Bristol, Ct., with a guest list that included NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers, X Games skateboarder Mitchie Brusco, U.S. women's soccer player Kristine Lilly, Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Tim Shriver and retired figure skater Michelle Kwan.
"The Special Olympics is something that is near and dear to my heart," said Kwan, who serves on the Special Olympics International Board. "... There's so many people that have the chance to play and we see the benefits in terms of the improvement in their health, in meeting new friends and also from the valuable lessons learned in sports."
The Special Olympics and ESPN are aiming to sign up one million U.S. participants including coaches, volunteers and athletes by 2015. ESPN is also providing marketing assistance to the Special Olympics to help strengthen the unified sports global ban, the companies said in an announcement.
Kwan's involvement with the Special Olympics dates back to when she was competing. When she was 15, she said, she was asked to be a judge at a Special Olympics event. She still participates in events around the world. As a board member she works to find strategies to get more volunteers involved, improve athletes' performance and improve the movement as a whole.
It's one of the many projects she's been working on, including her work with the State Department and the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, where she works on Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign with the First Lady.
So the big question -- who has better arms?
"I would have to say I am impressed with her arms," Kwan said, with a laugh. "She has quite the biceps that every woman strives for."
Kwan is also heading to the Olympics in 2014 as an analyst for Fox Sports. She said while she has an opinion about Russia's controversial new anti-gay laws, she plans on leaving her focus on the Games.
The new legislation, which bans "gay propaganda," has become a concern for many Olympic athletes, the International Olympic Committee and policy makers. A few Olympians have joined with organizations such as "Athlete Ally" to express their concern and former Olympians have also encouraged Russia to rethink the policies. Others have encouraged to keep the focus on the games.
Kwan, who medaled in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Games, said when dealing with political controversies heading into previous Olympics where she was competing, she tended to avoid getting involved.
"I think as an athlete I was so focused on what I had to do, I don't think I would have had time to speak out too much on difficult issues because you're there to perform, you're there to compete and there to represent your country," she said. "It's really hard -- (but) in my mind you leave it up to the people who are policy people and that's the way I approached (it)."
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