What is a diversity conundrum?

First in a multi-part series

Longtime columnist William C. Rhoden has written on The Undefeated.com about the “blinding Whiteness in virtually every sector” of college sport, including key leadership and other essential positions, calling it the “diversity conundrum.” This multi-part series will expand on Rhoden’s observation. We begin the series this week with a description of just what is meant by the expression ‘diversity conundrum.’

U of M Athletic Director Mark Coyle Photo courtesy of U of M


Mainstream media have once again “legitimized” a longstanding issue that the Black Press has identified and reported on for decades. Just as the Native Americans were already here when Columbus supposedly “discovered” America, the Star Tribune “discovered” the lack of diversity in University of Minnesota athletics administration with two published stories in the past six months. Diversity in sport administration has been a problem for decades at the U, something that the MSR has steadily pointed out for years with only occasional Johnny-come-lately pieces appearing in local mainstream media.

Beyond the headlines, the Strib’s latest article last month (“Lack of diversity in top jobs of Gophers athletics,” July 24) didn’t give the complete story. There are three Blacks in Minnesota AD Mark Coyle’s 16-person administration: Senior Associate AD Ayo Taylor-Dixon, Assistant AD Peyton Owens, and Compliance Director Jeremiah Carter. But there are other Blacks in key Gopher athletics roles as well.

Linda Roberts has the longest tenure as the only Black female — in the 1990s she was the first and only Black assistant AD in the school’s women’s athletic department before it merged with the men’s. She now serves as campus and community partnership director. Quincy Lewis is student development director.

And it’s factually correct that Minnesota has no Black head coaches if you don’t count the Black cheerleading coach.

Minnesota historically has had moments of diversity. The school was among the first Big Ten members to have Black football players in the late 1950s. One of them, Sandy Stephens, remains the only Gopher QB to lead them to two Rose Bowls and won its only championship there.

The Gophers are also on a very short list of conference schools all-time to have multiple Black head coaches in top revenue sports (three in men’s basketball and one in women’s basketball).

McKinley Boston remains the first and only Black male and Tonya Moten Brown the first and only Black female to lead U of M athletics, but the latter only as a caretaker after Boston was relieved of his duties in 1999. Yet the historical total of U of M Black administrators and coaches over the past three decades pales to insignificance in the consistently majority-White department.

The sad truth remains that the U of M has mostly been near or at the bottom of the Big Ten diversity ladder, even when the conference included only 10 schools, and it hasn’t moved up since conference expansion, now with 14 schools.

The Shadow League.com’s J.R. Gamble wrote in February that “impenetrable ole’ boys networks controlled the hiring for leadership positions,” which largely explains why racial and gender disparity hasn’t improved in the past 20 years.

Changing the current department’s diversity landscape takes “courage and vision to leave your comfort zone when making hires,” said Coyle in an email response to the MSR. “[It] is critically important for someone in a leadership position. However, the challenge is in that gap between knowing it’s important and then actually doing it. Leaving what’s comfortable to make a hire that’s nontraditional for whatever reason is risky, and that makes it stressful.”

So it’s risky to hire Blacks? Stressful? Non-traditional?

The word “conundrum” is often used to describe a riddle or puzzle, which may explain why award-winning columnist William C. Rhoden coined the “diversity conundrum” expression in his January piece for The Undefeated.com.

In response, over the past few months we’ve talked to several persons currently in sport positions as well as others for this multi-part series, not looking for or expecting “silver bullet” solutions, but rather from a need to keep a spotlight on this issue.


Next in the series: Are there any Black role models for Blacks to see and aspire to be one day?

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.


Related story:

Good role models essential to solving the ‘diversity conundrum’