Executives, Celebrities and Special Olympics Athletes to Compete in the ESPN – Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge

Special Olympics

Executives, Celebrities and Special Olympics Athletes to Compete in the ESPN – Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge

Executives from The Walt Disney Company, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and more compete to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics Unified Sports® while demonstrating the power of inclusion

Executive division to take place July 1 with start of 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle; Community division to take place June 29

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 featuring executives and their employees, celebrities and Special Olympics athletes all competing in multiple Unified Sports challenges to demonstrate the power of inclusion, of playing Unified and raising funds for Special Olympics and the local Seattle community. The ESPN | Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge coincides with the start of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Seattle, for which ESPN is the official broadcaster and will provide daily coverage from July 1-6.

Each executive will be part of a Unified team of five people, including themselves, two of their employees, a celebrity who is committed to a diverse and inclusive community and a Special Olympics athlete.

“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,” said Russell Wolff, Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ESPN International. “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.”

Added 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 added, “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.”

Companies who will have teams in the ESPN | Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge will include:

  • 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

Among the confirmed athletes and celebrities participating are:

  • 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

The teams will compete in fun and engaging unified activities, including Hot Shot Basketball, Penalty Shot Soccer, Bocce, Inflatable Dart Board, Football Accuracy Challenge, Giant Memory Game and Golf Putting.

The winning team will be awarded $20,000 to donate to Special Olympics USA Games or a Seattle based non-profit of choice, leaving a lasting legacy. The second through fourth placed teams will have the same opportunity with prize amounts of $12,500, $7,500 and $5,000, respectively.

Tim Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics International said, “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.

Additional thoughts and comments about the ESPN | Special Olympics Unified Challenge from some of the participants included the following:

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.”

In addition to the Executive Division of the challenge, ESPN, Special Olympics and the Seattle 2018 Games organizing committee will engage the Seattle community with a similar day of fun competition on June 29 at CenturyLink Field’s North Plaza. In the ESPN | Special Olympics Unified Challenge – Community Division, members of the community, local businesses, Special Olympics athletes and local law enforcement and fire department personnel will create unified teams and compete to demonstrate the impact of inclusion locally and raise money for Special Olympics and the local community.

As the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports since 2013, ESPN supports the growth and expansion of Unified Sports in markets around the world, empowering individuals with and without intellectual disabilities to engage, train and compete together and showcase the power of sports and inclusion.

As the official broadcaster of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, ESPN will provide coverage of the Games from July 1-8, including live coverage of the Opening Ceremony and nightly studio programs from Seattle throughout the week-long event. Coverage will air primarily on ESPN2, with the Opening Ceremony and highlights from the Closing Ceremony appearing on ABC. All programs will also be available to stream live on the ESPN App.


ESPN and Special Olympics
ESPN is proud of its relationship with Special Olympics, which spans more than 32 years. Over the past four years, ESPN has continued to deepen its relationship with the Special Olympics movement and in addition to being the Official Broadcaster for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. It will also celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics in the year ahead in addition to being the Official Media Partner of the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games, hosted in Abu Dhabi.

In 2017, ESPN and Special Olympics committed to continuing their alliance to use the power of sports to promote social inclusion and acceptance by reaching two agreements: an extension, and expansion, of ESPN’s Global Presenting Sponsorship of Special Olympics Unified Sports® and a new, three-year global programming agreement.

ESPN grants supports Special Olympics Unified Sports, as well as other initiatives, and extends and expands a role ESPN has held since 2013. Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Special Olympics Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. With support from ESPN and others, Special Olympics has grown this innovative and inclusive program to more than 1.2 million participants. As part of the continued support of Unified Sports, ESPN will invest in Special Olympics’ goal to build Unified Sports programming and resources in 10,000 schools by 2020 and ensuring 100,000 coaches receive new/renewed sports certifications by 2020.

ESPN previously served as the Official Broadcaster of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria and 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.

ESPN employees have been engaged in volunteerism with Special Olympics for over 32 years. Over 500 ESPN and Disney employees will be volunteering at the USA Games in Seattle.

ESPN believes that, at its very best, sports uplifts the human spirit. Its corporate citizenship programs use the power of sport to positively address society’s most pressing needs through strategic community investments, cause marketing programs, collaboration with sports organizations and employee volunteerism, while also utilizing its diverse media assets. For more information go to www.espn.com/citizenship 



Paul Melvin [email protected] or +1 860 766 5069
Olivia Wilson [email protected] or +1 213 304 1919

Special Olympics
Jaymelina Esmele [email protected] or 206-788-8964
Tara Baker [email protected] or 202-824-0279

Teri Couch

I oversee our company archives and manage our media website (ESPN Press Room). I also help out with PR efforts around our partnership with Special Olympics.
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