Shaquille O'Neal to Assist in Improving Youth Sports in Cuba

Mike NorrisFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2016

May 20, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Former NBA player and current TNT television personality Shaquille O'Neal prior to game one of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs between the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As relations between the United States and Cuba begin to open up, sports inevitably are becoming a part of the process.

Former NBA great Shaquille O'Neal, never one to back down from a challenge or the spotlight, will be traveling to Havana in June as an ambassador for the White House. He will work with children in the city to assist youth programs, according to Ananth Pandian of CBS Sports.

The White House released a statement Monday on the new Sports Envoy Program regarding O'Neal's trip. It said in part, "The program will be the first in which U.S. Embassy in Havana will partner with the Cuban Ministry of Sports" (h/t Pandian).

Anything involving the U.S. and Cuba has the potential to be polarizing considering the countries' past relationship. O'Neal, while maybe not polarizing, certainly has detractors considering he is never afraid to say what is on his mind. However, he also is entertaining and should make an impression on a group of children who otherwise may not have much exposure to American sports.

According to Pandian, the move makes sense: "O'Neal is the perfect person to help the United States launch this new program. He is literally larger than life, well-known and will likely make the program a thrill for all of the youth involved."

While this is not officially through the NBA or any other professional sport, it's in line with the efforts of the NBA, NFL, MLB and the NHL to expose different parts of the world to their respective products.

There may be some who do not see the need for this. But it's likely the youth in Cuba will benefit from O'Neal, and this program may play a small part in helping relations along the way.