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ESPN has announced the ESPN Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge. The Challenge will group  business executives, celebrities and athletes into competitive teams. The competition will help raise awareness and funds for the Special Olympics while demonstrating the power of inclusion.

ESPN Special Olympics

What’s happening:

  • On Sunday, July 1 at University of Washington’s Husky Ballpark, ESPN and Special Olympics USA Games will stage the first-ever ESPN Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge.
  • As part of the Challenge, teams of five will be formed to compete against each other to raise awareness and funds for the Special Olympics and the Seattle community. They will also celebrate and encourage inclusion.
  • Each team will consist of a business executive, two of their employees, a celebrity, and of course a Special Olympics athlete.
  • The ESPN | Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge will take coincide with the 2018 Special Olympics Games USA.
  • ESPN is the official broadcaster for the Games. The will provide daily coverage during the games.
  • The Special Olympics Games USA will be held in Seattle, Washington from July 1st-8th.

Companies and Executives participating:

  • Bank of America: team led by Anne Finucane, Vice Chairman
  • Coca-Cola: team, led by Jim Dinkins, President Coca-Cola North America    
  • DocuSign: team led by Dan Springer, CEO
  • The Finish Line, Inc.: team led by Sam Sato, Chief Executive Officer
  • Holland America Line: team led by Orlando Ashford, President
  • ESPN: Team led by Russell Wolff, Executive Vice President & Managing Director, ESPN International
  • Kaiser Permanente: team led by Susan Mullaney, President of Kaiser Permanente Washington
  • Microsoft: team led by Brad Smith, President
  • Seattle Mariners: team led by John Stanton, Chairman & Managing Partner and Jerry Dipoto, Executive Vice President & General Manager
  • Starbucks: team led by Vivek Varma, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs
  • Swire Coca-Cola: Paul Lukanowski, Sr. Vice President and General Manager
  • The Walt Disney Company: team led by Elissa Margolis, Sr. Vice President, Enterprise Social Responsibility
  • University of Washington: team led by Ana Mari Cauce, President
  • WWE: team led by Stephanie McMahon, Chief Brand Officer

Celebrities and Athletes participating in the Challenge:

  • Victoria Arlen: ESPN reporter, author, model, Dancing With The Stars semi-finalist and former Paralympian
  • Lorretta Claiborne: speaker, advocate, ESPYs Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner
  • Walter Jones: Seattle Seahawks legend and Hall of Famer
  • Kasey Keller: USMNT, MLS & Premier League goalkeeper; ESPN analyst and USA Games Board Member
  • Steve Largent: former U.S. Representative, Seahawks legend and NFL Hall of Famer
  • Kenny Mayne: ESPN SportsCenter anchor
  • Kevin Negandhi: ESPN SportsCenter anchor
  • Apolo Ohno: Olympic champion speed skater
  • Gary Payton: Seattle Supersonics legend and NBA Hall of Famer
  • Lauren Potter: actress and advocate
  • Holly Rowe: ESPN reporter
  • Big Show: WWE Superstar
  • Marty Smith: ESPN reporter and host
  • Jordan Spieth: world No. 3-ranked golfer
  • Allen Stone: acclaimed ATO Records R&B recording artist
  • Jim Zorn – Seahawks legend

What they’re saying:

  • Russell Wolff, Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ESPN International: “We are incredibly excited about the upcoming Special Olympics USA Games and proud to be working with Special Olympics and other incredible companies to illustrate how easy and powerful it is to choose to include. Personally, I am thrilled to be joining with an incredible team to have a fun, active day and take the challenge to our competition while we raise awareness for the power of inclusion.”
  • Beth Knox, President and CEO of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games: “The business community’s support for the 2018 USA Games has been off the charts. We’re incredibly honored to have our partners participate in the Unified Challenge and to stand with them and their employees as we prioritize a stronger, more inclusive community.”
  • Elissa Margolis, Sr. Vice President, Enterprise Social Responsibility: “Inclusion is a core value at Disney and something that is personally very important to me. I’m thrilled to be participating in the Unified Sports Challenge and very proud that Disney is the Presenting Sponsor of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Volunteer Program.”
  • Tim Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics International: “Special Olympics Unified Sports is an opportunity to get off the sidelines and onto the field. I am thrilled to see the incredible list of corporate participants in the first ever ESPN Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge. This is truly a testament to the culture of inclusion and respect these executives believe in and are implementing throughout their organizations.”
  • Loretta Claiborne, SOI Chief Inspiration Officer, Board Member, and Special Olympics Athlete: “Wait till you see what the athletes of Special Olympics are capable of. When you play Unified, no matter your ability, you are in the game!”
  • Stephanie McMahon, Chief Brand Officer, WWE: “WWE is privileged to have a longstanding partnership with Special Olympics and remain committed to spreading their message of acceptance and inclusion. The heart, passion and dedication of Special Olympics athletes is truly inspirational, and I look forward to joining them in competition to demonstrate the power of inclusion and help build a unified generation.”
  • Susan Mullaney, President of Kaiser Permanente Washington: “Joining the athletes on the field to play unified is sure to be a highlight of the week. It embodies the spirit of inclusion we all share, and it gives everyone the chance to rise and thrive—together. As the Official Health Partner for the Special Olympics USA Games, we are honored to support the health and wellbeing of the athletes both on and off the field so they can perform their best at the Games and beyond.”
  • Gary Payton, NBA Hall of Famer & Seattle Supersonics Legend: “It’s been an honor to serve as a USA Games Ambassador and I continue to be inspired by the hard work and courage the athletes show day in and day out. Special Olympics not only transforms the athletes’ lives, but also the lives of anyone involved as a volunteer or a spectator.”
  • Sam Sato, Chief Executive Officer of The Finish Line, Inc.: “Whether it’s a Special Olympics team visit to one of our stores or high fives as these athletes cross the finish line, our employees value each and every interaction we have through our partnership with Special Olympics. Our team receives immeasurable joy watching these athletes pour their heart and soul into their sport. The athletes provide great inspiration as role models who set goals and work hard to achieve them.”
  • Brad Smith, President of Microsoft: “The Special Olympics celebrates diversity and inclusion in a way that no other organization has. As the title sponsor for this summer’s USA Games, Microsoft looks forward to bringing our region together to create a city of inclusion where everyone is welcome and can contribute their talents and skills.”
  • Jordan Spieth (competing on one of Coca-Cola’s teams): “The Special Olympics USA Games is an incredibly inspiring event. I’m absolutely honored to have the chance to participate in the Opening Ceremonies and celebrate these amazing, world-class athletes. Everybody has worked so hard to get here and I’m excited to participate in the Unified Sports Challenge alongside these athletes and Coca-Cola.”
  • Vivek Varma, Executive Vice President, Starbucks global public affairs: “Starbucks is proud to support Special Olympics as the USA Games come to our hometown of Seattle. From our earliest days, diversity and inclusion have been at the heart of how we do business. Working with organizations like Special Olympics, as well as our partners in the Starbucks Access Alliance, is critical to promoting inclusion and accessibility, while advancing opportunities for all. I look forward to personally participating in the ESPN Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge this summer.”

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