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New Orleanian of the Year 2017: Kim Sport 

An advocate for domestic violence victims and co-founder of the Breastoration Fund

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Attorney and civic activist Kim Sport always has been drawn to causes that speak to her heart, and her passion for those causes springs from a personal life experience.

  Her determination to complete her college education drove her to champion Jefferson Dollars for Scholars in the 1990s. She later followed her husband, business leader Mike Sport, to serve in leadership posts with the local Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana.

  In recent years, the life experiences that drove Sport's civic passions became more personal than ever. A three-time cancer survivor, she co-founded the nonprofit Breastoration Fund, a subsidiary of the Cancer Association of Greater New Orleans, to help breast cancer patients access reconstruction surgery after mastectomies.

  Several years later, other life- changing events pushed Sport into the political arena as a champion of survivors of domestic violence — a cause that, since early 2014, steadily has gained momentum thanks to Sport's tenacity.

  "I learned that someone in my immediate family had been a victim of domestic violence for years, and that caused me to take a look at the laws in Louisiana," Sport says. "I had no idea what I was getting into. I just knew that there were tremendous problems and that Louisiana ranked fourth in the nation for domestic violence homicides."

  Then she got more shocking news.

  "I found out around the same time that one of my close friend Charmaine Caccioppi's dear friends had been murdered," Sport says. "It was as if the stars had lined up: The United Way had asked me to chair a public policy committee at its board level, then I found out about my family member being a victim, then one of Charmaine's friends was murdered — and it all set us on that path to try to change the domestic violence laws in Louisiana."

  Sport and Caccioppi, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the local United Way, found an ally in state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans. The three met in February 2014, and in less than five months they convinced Louisiana lawmakers to change more than two dozen provisions of state law to provide greater protections to domestic violence victims.

  Caccioppi recalls what it was like watching Sport work in the political trenches that year. "I watched as a legislator yelled and shook his finger in Kim's face," Caccioppi says. "She swiftly grabbed it and asked, 'Just how many times do you want a man to be able to beat his wife before it's a felony?'"

  Also in 2014, lawmakers created the Domestic Violence Prevention Commission; Sport was elected its first chair. She served for two years, but after disappointing legislative sessions in 2015 and 2016, she resigned from the commission and joined United Against Domestic Violence — a joint effort of United Way, the New Orleans Family Justice Center and the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

  "It was harder to get proposed legislation out of the domestic violence commission than doing it under the United Against Domestic Violence umbrella," Sport says.

  In 2017, the stars lined up again. Thanks to Sport's tireless advocacy, which included buttonholing editors as well as lawmakers, Louisiana legislators extended domestic violence protections to same-sex couples and dating partners and toughened penalties against abusers by making any second domestic violence charge a felony, which forces abusers to relinquish firearms upon conviction. Lawmakers also tightened firearms restrictions against abusers who are subject to civil protective orders, allowing prosecutors to file felony charges against violators who injure protected persons.

  Sport won those and other legislative victories against entrenched adversaries and daunting political odds. For her tireless advocacy on behalf of domestic violence victims, Sport was an easy choice as one of Gambit's New Orleanians of the Year for 2017.

  "Whether it's fighting for insurance coverage for cancer survivors, drafting laws to protect domestic violence victims or defending one of her many pro bono clients, Kim's deep compassion for people in need is what motivates her to tenaciously push to win — because she wins for them," Moreno told Gambit. "She may be tiny in stature, but don't ever underestimate her. She'll roll right over you, even if you're cancer."

  At one point in the 2017 legislative session, Sport's efforts hit a snag. The National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most powerful lobbies in America, had lined up against bills to dispossess anyone of firearms — even abusers. Sport and her allies prevailed by confecting an end-around.

  "We created a separate crime — battery of a dating partner — outside the [domestic violence] laws, wherein an abuser would not be dispossessed on the first conviction, but would on the second conviction," Sport said. "However, even though an abuser gets to keep his firearms upon the first conviction under this new law, it still counts as a first offense under the domestic abuse battery statute, which means a second offense is a felony. Most important, the misdemeanor abuser still has to undergo the 26-week domestic abuse intervention program. It was a great way to work around the NRA."

  Not many advocates can take on the NRA and live, politically, to tell it. That speaks volumes about Sport — but it doesn't surprise those who have worked with her.

  "She is the type of person who recognizes that you must do the things that others say cannot be done, and she does it," says fellow attorney and friend Tim Madden.

  Sport's 2017 efforts were so impressive, in fact, that state lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution commending her efforts — even though some of them initially cowed to the NRA's opposition.

  "The 2017 session was one of our best," Sport says. "Used to be you could batter somebody three times and it was just a misdemeanor. We began closing it year by year until now, hopefully, the battered person is protected. Our laws are getting stronger, but there's more work to be done. We'll be back in 2018 to try to put more teeth into the firearms restrictions, because not all jurisdictions are enforcing it effectively."

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