That happened almost by chance, Jana said. Seats in the classroom were tightly packed, and Jana was in football camp at the time. “I would come after practice, so I’d would be really tired, my legs would be tired, and I couldn’t sit in those tight seats because I would cramp up,” he said. In the front row, he could stretch his legs out.
The proximity paid off. Jana, who’d been fascinated by American politics, began to realize that policy could be a more effective way of creating change and helping others. He started lingering after class to chat with Warburg, who introduced him to other Batten faculty members. “Once I understood what the Batten School stood for, [I thought], ‘This is exactly what I want to do,’” he said.
Meanwhile, the 2019 football season – when the Cavs went 9-5 and Jana, a wide receiver, had the second-fewest dropped passes in the country – was also affecting his trajectory. “There’s always been kind of a chip on my shoulder about being this Canadian guy, having to prove to myself almost that I am able to compete in football with Americans,” he said. His success that season “was kind of the ultimate ‘you can do this’ kind of affirmation.”
Warburg helped Jana channel his interests in football and social change into an innovative independent study project on “Athletes, Activism, and Policy Action.”
“I realized there is nowhere in academia this is happening,” said Jana, who also worked with professor Brian Williams on the project. “There’s lots about athletes and activism, but there’s nothing about athletes and public policy.”
Along with reviewing research and conducting a nonprofit case study, Jana interviewed former UVA athletes like the NFL players Tiki Barber and Chris Long and Batten grads and pro basketball players Jocelyn Willoughby (WNBA) and Malcom Brogdon (NBA).
In the process, he says, he discovered how many athletes are already doing this work, and “really engaging with policymakers.”
“I thought it would be just be using your platform to amplify other people,” he said. “But what I came to find out is that a lot of these athletes are having sit-down meetings with legislators, are lobbying for certain bills to be passed. They’re really deeply entrenched in the work and these issues at a level that’s surprising.”
Jana carried out his project in an unprecedented year; he was still in the planning stages when the COVID pandemic hit. Then came the murder of George Floyd and nationwide protests over police violence.