Third in a 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.” MSR’s multi-part series expands on Rhoden’s observation. This week: creating road maps that can get Blacks into athletic administration careers.
Before GPS technology, a road map, if used properly, was a sure bet for not getting lost. Charting out a career — a kind of road map, if you will — can be an applicable metaphor for how one often creates his or her route to a successful career.
There’s a road map for athletes, beginning as youths and someday, it is hoped, leading them to the pros. But does such a road map exist for Blacks and other people of color seeking athletic administration careers?
“Personally, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after my undergrad” years at Mankato State, Jennifer Jacobs told me. The former Augsburg University assistant athletic director and assistant volleyball coach is now in her first season as Augustana (S.D.) University head volleyball coach.
“I knew I liked coaching,” she said. “I liked working with young people and young people of color.”
“I wasn’t sure exactly what that [administrative] role would look like,” said John Thomas, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx community engagement vice-president. “I envisioned myself in some capacity of working with players.” He joined the local NBA/WNBA franchise this summer after four years in management at LifeTime Fitness, and with the National Basketball Retired Players Association before that.
There are now programs specifically designed to improve diversity, such as the National Basketball Players Association’s (NBPA) Leadership Development Program to help current and former NBA players eventually land front office jobs. NBPA Players Programs Chief Purvis Short lauds the effort, but he told ESPN sports website “The Undefeated” that “a better process in place” is needed for more Blacks and former NBA players to attain such positions.
The NCAA for several years has held similar programs for aspiring coaches and administrators of color. Yet Black coaches and administrators still remain an oddity in too many cases across the three divisions.
Sometimes you must create your own road map, especially if you are a person of color. Former Minnesota associate AD Ayo Taylor Dixon, now at Georgia Tech, briefly laid out his road map for us.
After graduating with a bachelor’s in 2000 and a master’s in business in 2002, both from Stephen F. Austin, “I got one phone interview and it lasted 20 minutes,” he recalled. He took an internship with the University of Evansville athletics. “I have two degrees and I’m taking a job for 800 bucks a month,” he said.
“I tell people it’s the right time, right place in athletics,” said Taylor Dixon. “I got lucky and did a good job in my first major event. I [then] got promoted to a full-time position [in ticket sales].”
After four years, he moved to athletics administration positions at South Florida (2006-14) and Northern Colorado (2014-16) before coming to Minnesota in March 2016. He accepted the Georgia Tech associate AD position in August.
Sometimes it’s internships, an oft-elusive summer job for many Blacks. Two local Black female college students — Temi Ogunrinde (2019 Final Four) and Karina Joiner (2018 Super Bowl) — work on community impact and diversity and inclusion as summer interns. “I appreciated the opportunity a lot. It was fun,” said Joiner, a Harvard sophomore studying psychology and African American studies. She’s unsure if she will pursue a sports career after graduation.
“The existing road maps that I have been fortunate [to find] and [have] taken advantage of have been things like surrounding myself with amazing mentors in key professional positions,” said Jacobs. “The road maps I think I have in general created for myself have all revolved around really hard work and true love for people.”
Next: Pro leagues’ intentional efforts in finding more Blacks for front office roles
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.