First of two parts
The firing drum that has slowly banged for Mike Woodson since mid-winter reached its crescendo Monday when he was fired as New York Knicks head coach. The final drumbeat came last week when Woodson wasn’t involved in the usual coach-conducted players’ exit interviews.
We are midway through the 21st century’s second decade, and we still only use one hand to count the number of Black coaches in any one of the five major leagues: four Black NBA coaches, two males and a female in the WNBA, three Black MLB managers, four NFL coaches. We’re still waiting for a Black coach in the National Hockey League.
One-hand counting is still used in college basketball and football at all three NCAA divisions as well. It’s not even spring yet, and already questions are out on first-year Coach Charlie Strong at Texas, such as “…how quickly the Longhorns
can rebound…under the new coach,” from a spring football report last weekend.
As a result, I always root for Black coaches, no matter the sport, because of such culturally conditioned criticism. Black coaches too often get a thimbleful of credit and Rocky Mountain blame. Benefits of the doubt seem to be for White coaches only.
“My name is Faith Johnson Patterson, high school basketball coach at De La Salle High School.” This was how one of Minnesota’s most successful high school girls’ basketball coaches introduced herself back in February at the 2014 Women Coaches Symposium at the University of Minnesota. Johnson Patterson was one of only two Black panelists.
If being a Black coach these days is tough, imagine what it’s like being a Black female coach in Minnesota.
“Minnesota still being a predominately Caucasian environment, it’s tough for women, and it’s still tough for an African American woman in this industry,” reiterates the hall of fame coach. “No one wants to touch this subject.
“I think it’s just being an African American, period. It can be very intimidating. You got to fit the norm… You got to fit in. If you don’t fit in, you will feel isolated,” continues the first Black female basketball coach to win a Minnesota state high school title.
“I never forget making it to the state tournament,” recalls Johnson Patterson. “After [a male TV sports reporter] interviewed me, he literally said on TV, ‘Now we will talk to the brains of the operation,’ which is my husband [her assistant coach]. I will never forget that. And I will never forget how many times people would walk directly to him as if he was the head coach of the program.”
It’s tough these days being a Black coach.
“It’s a constant fight, struggle, battle for respect,” says Johnson Patterson. “To this day, I am still having to go through that. That makes me tougher. I am not going to give it up or retire until I feel like my purpose is fulfilled and [there is] someone to pass the torch to.
“I’m a stand-alone at my level. I appreciate it and am not intimidated by it,” she concludes.
Sistah addition by subtraction
Two days after last Monday’s draft, the Minnesota Lynx did a sign-and-trade with New York, trading second-year guard Sugar Rodgers for a 2015 third-round pick, then signing free agent guard Tan White, a nine-year veteran.
Next week: Being both a Black female and a strength and conditioning coach
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.