Being associated with a university athletic scandal prompted David Chadwick to build a business around accountability and shifting an uneven power dynamic in collegiate sports.
In 2012, the former Charlotte Latin basketball star was on the Rice University basketball team in Houston. An Iranian-born player and a coach originally from Egypt allegedly received derogatory comments by coaches and administrators that led to racial discrimination. Rice officials denied any wrongdoing. The matter sparked negative stories in Sports Illustrated and other publications
“I thought either [the alleged discrimination] wasn’t going on and the school should have had more protection, or it was going on and they should have uncovered it and addressed it sooner,” says Chadwick, who later transferred to Valparaiso University in Indiana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and an MBA. “I wanted to come up with something that would solve a direct challenge that I and many of my peers experienced: The absence of a confidential, real-time accessible way to bring issues forward to administrators and coaches.”
Three years later, Chadwick reworked his Valparaiso business- school entrepreneurial class project for an anonymous online reporting platform and launched a business to create a fairer, simpler reporting system. Seven years later, RealResponse has signed more than 100 colleges and universities as clients and employs 10 staffers. The business has experienced torrid growth of late, signing partnerships with the NFL’s Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. Additional clients include the NFL Players Association, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, The National Women’s Soccer League and USA Gymnastics.
Their tools provide more than 150,000 athletes and staff the ability to anonymously share feedback and allow administrators to create custom surveys, document cases and retain records through accessible software. The platform is mobile-friendly and allows clients to send texts to students on important matters ranging from COVID-19 protocols to reminders to complete a required survey.
“Student-athletes are oftentimes unlikely to speak up because of the [unbalanced] power dynamic,” says Chadwick. “They’re dealing with potential repercussions of playing time, financial aid, desire to work in the sports industry, network and relationships. Having a confidential third-party [vehicle] allows them to address concerns when they might not have otherwise.”
Chadwick’s clients include UNC System campuses in Asheville, Boone, Charlotte, Greensboro, and Wilmington, along with Campbell, High Point, and Wake Forest universities and Davidson College. His father, David Chadwick Sr., is a former UNC Chapel Hill basketball player who has been one of Charlotte’s best-known pastors for decades.
RealResponse’s flagship product is the anonymous reporting plat- form in which student-athletes share concerns about various issues: academic and mental-health challenges, equipment or facility problems, travel concerns, and how they are getting along with coaches. The comments are shared with administrators designated by university athletic directors. Many schools also route the reports to Title IX coordinators, who are responsible for discrimination and harassment issues. When things get serious, university attorneys and key administrators are also notified.
“The biggest plus for us is the tool provides a confidential platform for student-athletes to communicate about their experiences with the program,” says Mike Hill, UNC Charlotte’s athletic director. While the university has many checks and balances, “The reality is when you have 450 student-athletes it’s impossible to know every student-athlete’s experience. It is important for us to provide a forum for that.”
Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem was RealResponse’s first client in 2016. “David is a great example of a purpose-driven entrepreneur who built something of real value for student health, safety and welfare,” says Athletic Director John Currie, who knew about the business before coming to Winston-Salem in 2019. “The tool has grown and exceeded my expectations. It’s easy for us to think our students will always tell us what they are thinking, but experience has shown that’s not always the case.”
When cheerleaders had concerns about food not being delivered after a game, the RealResponse system helped Wake Forest address the gap in planning promptly, Currie says.
A popular RealResponse feature is a season-end survey to gauge athletes’ attitudes and compare internally and with other schools. New NCAA rules allow un- precedented movement between universities through the “transfer portal” system, which is challenging coaches and schools to both retain and recruit talented performers. Knowing what athletes think may be more critical than ever.
“We strongly encourage survey participation,” Hill says. “We get a lot of positive and complimentary feedback; it’s not always negative. This input allows us to help create the best possible environment and experience.”
UNC Asheville benefited from RealResponse when the pandemic led to fewer face-to-face meetings, creating some communications challenges, says Janet Cone, senior administrator for university enterprises and athletic director. “RealResponse made it so much easier for student-athletes to share feedback. We also have coaches use the tool to document meetings with athletes on various issues such as mental health or academic concerns.”
Chadwick views the business as an opportunity to address important personal needs of collegians. He cites a school where an athlete used the system to alert leaders that a teammate was considering suicide.
“Administrators were able to quickly intervene, hospitalize the student and get her resources to help,” he says. “The A.D. told me that they think, to this day, our system [was key] in the intervention. Learning this was gratifying.” ■