Second 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. This week: Is having Black role models important for Blacks?
Seeing someone in a leadership role that looks like you can be inspiring and motivating or any combination of the two, especially if you are Black. “It is extremely important for young people of all races to have Black role models and role models of all races,” noted Jennifer Jacobs, who will begin her first season September 1 as Augustana (S.D.) College head women’s volleyball coach.
Before she was hired by Augustana last winter, Jacobs was the only Black assistant athletic director and assistant women’s volleyball coach at Minneapolis’ Augsburg College. “I started out coaching volleyball [at St. Paul Harding] in inner-city St. Paul,” she pointed out. Then later at Richfield High School, while working on her master’s in educational administration, a mentor alerted her to the Augsburg opening in 2012 — half-time coaching and half-time administration.
Vivian Stringer, perhaps the winningest Black women’s basketball coach in history, told us earlier this year that being a Black role model should be a prerequisite as a leader of color. “I think we all have the responsibility to help in any way that we can,” stated the veteran Rutgers coach. “I want to be a strong woman in whichever way I can.”
Being such a role model, Stringer hopes, will plant seeds in her players to perhaps see coaching as an option in their post-playing career when it comes around. “Many of the players I have had are now coaches,” she said proudly. “They are at some of the top [college] programs in the country.”
Andrea Williams was the only Black female associate commissioner at the Big Ten before she was hired last year as Big Sky commissioner. “You’d hope that in 2017 we wouldn’t be talking about gender and race…and individuals getting opportunities based on their merits,” she admitted.
“But I also recognize the importance of this first-time appointment as the first African American female as a Division I commissioner. It is important for me to make sure that I do well and represent.”
Her father served as her first role model, Williams pointed out. “He definitely guided us [she and her brother and sister] at a young age toward making sure that we were successful academically as well as athletically.”
As a high schooler in inner-city Detroit, the late Bob Bennett served as this reporter’s Black role model. He came to our school’s career day, and when asked why he hadn’t become a local television news anchor, or perhaps leave town to work at a network, Bennett, who was on television every night covering the top local stores, said he only wanted to be a good news reporter in Detroit.
That pretty much clenched it for me to one day aspire to be a good news reporter, if not in my hometown then somewhere else in this country.
“Young folks absolutely need to see themselves represented in all walks of life and all walks of society,” concluded Jacobs. “If I am a young person, and I don’t see someone who looks like me or someone who I can identify with, then how can I envision myself ever getting anywhere myself?”
Next in this series: Our discussion moves from role models to mentors. There’s a “road map” for players, but does this exist for Blacks who aspire for athletic leadership positions?
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.