New documentary addresses sexism, racism in coaching

Faith Johnson Patterson (Photo courtesy of Eden Prairie
If by now you’re sick and tired of those endless Christmas movies on the two Hallmark channels that have been running non-stop since before Halloween, we wholeheartedly recommend a new documentary on women coaches as a welcome respite.

Game On: Women Can Coach, a University of Minnesota Tucker Center-TPT co-production that premiered in November, explores research, dispels false narratives, and celebrates female coaching pioneers. The hour-long documentary is scheduled for rebroadcasting this month on the TPT MN channel (Dec. 9, 9 pm; Dec. 16, 3 am, 9 am and 3 pm).

Filmmakers Shari Lamke and Connie Clark talked earlier this year on PBS.org about their film. “We need to see coaches in action, as well as talk to them about the barriers and successes they’ve had in their careers,” the two filmmakers noted.

Among those featured on camera were two of the state’s most successful female coaches: Minnesota Lynx Coach/GM Cheryl Reeve, winner of four WNBA titles, and Minnesota Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Faith Johnson Patterson, who won eight state high school titles at two different Minneapolis schools.

“She and Cheryl Reeve are really the stars of the film,” Tucker Center Co-Director Nicole LaVoi told the MSR by phone last week. She reported on the feedback she received thus far on Game On: “For Faith to be gracious enough to allow us our time to film her, her story really is resounding with people.”

Johnson Patterson spoke passionately about her coaching journey, which came at the time of filming when she had just been fired by Eden Prairie after two seasons. Lamke and Clark had been filming the coach at her summer basketball camp.

“The second time we were filming her was the day she found out she got fired from Eden Prairie,” LaVoi remembered. “She found out because a parent emailed her to see why she is leaving, and she [Johnson Patterson] had no idea of what they were talking about.”

“We captured that emotion in real time,” the Tucker Center co-director pointed out.

Nicole LaVoi Charles Hallman/MSR News
“I thought [the filmmakers] did a great job,” the Hall of Fame coach told us last weekend. “I was pleasantly surprised,” especially when they let her talk about the lows and highs of being a Black female coach.

“What Nicole did was opened awareness” on the issue, Johnson Patterson stressed. She praised LaVoi, “a Caucasian woman,” for allowing her “to discuss these things. You have to be bold and not feel it will take away from team to even make those types of statements.”

The Players’ Tribune last week featured an eight-page treatise by South Carolina Head Women’s Coach Dawn Staley, “Where Are All the Black Coaches?” The U.S. National Coach of the Year also took part with other Black female coaches on a “Coaching While Black” roundtable discussion.

“Most of the coaches are White,” Staley said. “Yet this is a sport mostly played by Black women.  How do we change that?” The coach pointed out the unrealistic expectations put on Black female coaches that their White counterparts rarely face.

“I’m very aware of what my success represents,” she said. “I’m also very aware of what my failure would represent.”

“I applaud Dawn Staley for doing this,” Johnson Patterson said.

LaVoi said of Game On, “I want people to use it in classrooms across the country, for coaching education, instruction and motivation. I think the next step [is it] needs to be shown to decision-makers and people in power in athletics, people that hire coaches and create cultures in sport.”

About Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at challman@spokesman-recorder.com

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