Two Black head coaches made news within hours of each other last weekend. One coach had to offer a mea culpa for their post-game remarks, while the other spoke passionately about a longstanding issue.
Leonard Hamilton (Florida State) and Felisha Legette-Jack (Buffalo) this year both led their respective squads to historic season runs.
Hamilton’s men’s team last Saturday fell a couple of baskets short of reaching the Final Four to Michigan in a defensive-minded, cold-shooting slugfest. Legette-Jack’s women’s team reached the Sweet 16 before they fell last Saturday to 2017 champion South Carolina in a matchup of two teams led by Black women.
After the loss, CBS reporter Dana Jacobson asked Hamilton why his players didn’t foul with 10 seconds left and down four points, a second-guessing inquiry spearheaded by studio talking heads and on-site broadcasters. Hamilton responded, “Do you think that the game came down to the final seconds of the game?”
On the surface, Jacobson’s refreshing and often rare question actually wasn’t out-of-line, but it was her follow-up question to Hamilton’s response that was too pushy — Florida State just minutes earlier walked off the floor in defeat and emotions were still very raw. “The game was over,” Hamilton asserted.
That stinging defeat should have been taken into account, but instead, Hamilton was seen as the angry Black man to a White female reporter who was only doing her job. More on that later.
Earlier that day, after her team fell to Dawn Staley’s higher-seeded team in defeat, a reporter asked Legette-Jack about the low number of such Black female coaches as she and Staley, the only two women of color with teams in the Sweet 16. “I have some really amazing colleagues that look like me,” the Buffalo coach responded. “I have so many friends that had an opportunity and they lose their opportunities…”
Legette-Jack knows this far too well: I covered her during her time at Indiana (2002-06). She always was gracious to speak to, whether after a victory or a defeat, and she had no qualms about speaking from the heart. But she got fired, and had to work hard to get a second chance to lead a program — such second chances aren’t often afforded to non-White coaches.
She recounted how current South Carolina assistant coach Jolette Law got canned at Illinois after five seasons in her first head coaching job, and Janelle Elliott got shown the door at Cincinnati earlier this month. “I’m saddened by it,” Legette-Jack said, bemoaning the double burden that she and other Black coaches, female or male must shoulder — win games and represent.
“I know that the majority of women basketball players look like me,” she continued. “I think that these young women, if we really care about them as people, that they will have role models that look like them.”
As her passionate response was given little airplay, the Hamilton-Jacobson encounter was endlessly looped on sports shows into the night. Sports fan Jennifer Runaas tweeted about it, and later emailed to me that the incident reminded her of the 2014 Richard Sherman/Erin Andrews post-Super Bowl interview.
“I have to question if race was the issue for this blowing up,” Runaas stated. “I have a unique perspective on race. I am a 50-year-old White female…”
What hasn’t been discussed or asked: Why was Jacobson, a Michigan graduate, assigned to work a game that featured her alma mater in the first place? Would she have been that tough on the Wolverines’ coach if he had lost and his players didn’t foul? A possible conflict of interest here?
Rather Hamilton, another cultural conditioning victim, was found guilty in public opinion and sports talking heads court for speaking harshly to a White woman.
What we saw on the third weekend of March Madness was a disappointing race-related reality reinforced on the same day.
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.