According to NCAA student-athlete demographics, the racial composition of college softball players across all three divisions hasn’t changed much in over a decade. Black females made up about six percent of all softball players in 2008, and that percentage has decreased slightly in 2018.
It was less than that at the recent NCAA Minneapolis Regional hosted at the University of Minnesota two weekends ago, and last weekend at the Super Regionals, which the school also hosted. Of the five teams that played here — the Gophers, Georgia, Drake and North Dakota State in the Regionals and LSU in the Super Regionals — only LSU and Georgia had Blacks on their rosters, five and three respectively. The other three teams had none.
This prompted us to dig deeper into the diversity of all 64 teams in this year’s NCAAs. We found the following:
- Total number of softball players: 1,320 (101 were Blacks – 7.6 percent)
- Total number of players in the Minneapolis Regional: 101 (eight were Black – 7.9 percent)
- Two regional sites, which also included two HBCU teams, had the most Black players (12 each)
- Two regionals with the lowest number of Black players were Minneapolis (three) and Evanston (one)
- PWI (predominately White institution) with the highest number of Black players: Houston and LSU tied with five each
- PWI teams at Super Regionals with the most Blacks: LSU with five
- PWI Super Regionals team with zero Blacks: Minnesota and Oklahoma State
Three things to note: First, both the Gophers and Oklahoma State, two of eight schools that advanced to this week’s Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, have no Black players.
Secondly, to our surprise the two Black colleges, Bethune-Cookman (eight) and Alabama State (four) had more non-Black players (a total of 22 for both schools) than Black players.
And finally, only one of the 64 schools had a Black head coach (Illinois’ Tyra Perry).
The sorry state of softball diversity isn’t lost on the Black players we talked to at the stadium. “There’s not that many of us,” Georgia outfielder Ciara Bryan admitted.
Her teammate CJ Landrum added, “Some teams don’t accept different races. UGA softball loves diversity. I wish that other college teams were more culturally diverse.” Fellow frosh Jaiden Fields is redshirting this season and did not accompany the team to Minneapolis.
“I think it’s important for us to represent our culture in this sport,” LSU junior Akiya Thymes said. “It’s also [important] for the other majority [players] on our team who don’t know much about the things we have to go through to get to this point.”
Her teammate junior Aliyah Andrews observed, “We have more than most teams. We’re thankful for that.”
“Having multiple people on the same team [who look] like you allow you to feel comfortable and have stuff to relate [with],” Tigers freshman Karrington Houshmandzadeh pointed out. “When you don’t see people like you, [you] just go play basketball or something like that.”
“We didn’t grow up with a lot of Black girls [playing softball],” LSU sophomore Taryn Antoine said.
As there were few Black players the last two weekends at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, there were even fewer Black fans in the stands. Keyshalynn and Donnie Thymes and their daughter easily stood out among the majority White fans in attendance.
Keyshalynn Thymes admitted, “No, I wouldn’t have come to this softball game” if her other daughter Akiya wasn’t on the LSU squad. Her husband said they rarely see more than a few Blacks at softball games.
Why aren’t more Black females playing softball? The reasons vary. Our discussion continues next week.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.