Big Ten commish plans to ‘make things happen’ for student-athletes

Commissioner Kevin Warren
Charles Hallman/MSR News

A 2001 U.S. Surgeon General study found that Blacks are more prone to encounter mental health challenges because of historic social and economic inequality, discrimination, violence and poverty. The 2020 coronavirus outbreak and a nearly three-month national lockdown definitely has added to these challenges.

All sporting events have been on hold since mid-March. The NCAA cancelled all spring sports. Schools and campuses were shut down, and regular team and individual activities were suspended. The structure and routines such events provide are critical for mental health, especially for athletes.

“I was a bit disappointed, because I was looking forward to my first outdoor season,” Minnesota freshman sprinter Janielle Josephs said last week from her Kingston, Jamaica home. She ran indoor track for the Gophers and was named Big Ten Women’s Track & Field Freshman of the Year earlier this month.

The disruption to normalcy, not knowing if or when things will resume, especially if you’re a young person away from home at college, can produce anxiety and depression.

“All of us are having anxiety” during this time, Minnesota Athletics Director Mark Coyle told us. “We all want to know what tomorrow will bring. Right now we don’t have that certainty.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Earlier this month, Kevin Warren announced a mental health initiative to support student-athletes’ mental health. Shortly after taking office as Big Ten commissioner last fall, he started a mental health cabinet consisting of representatives from all 14 Big Ten schools. Though it wasn’t expected or planned, the COVID-19 pandemic provided the perfect time to unveil this cornerstone of Warren’s ambitious agenda.

“There are a lot of issues I am comfortable talking about,” said Warren during a visit to Minnesota earlier this year. “I believe that the decisions we make in the next five years will impact intercollegiate athletics for the next 15-20 years.”

He looks at college athletics in a holistic way: “Our student-athletes need to be in an environment where they are taken care of from a mental health and wellness standpoint. They should be allowed to be young people. We have to make sure they are healthy—mentally, physically, emotionally [and] spiritually.”

“He cares a great deal about the student-athletes,” Coyle said of the new commissioner. ‘I am grateful for Commissioner Warren’s leadership.”
“I’m a believer in making things happen,” Warren said.

WNBA seeks safety
Among the number of scenarios being discussed, the WNBA is exploring the possibility of all 12 teams playing the 2020 season at one site for safety reasons due to COVID-19.

Ten Black coaches hired
Nearly 25 Division I women’s basketball coaching jobs have been filled since March, several with Black head coaches: Tiffany Sardin (Chicago State), Niele Ivey (Notre Dame), Ann Marie Gilbert (Detroit Mercy), Nicole Powell (UC Riverside), Semeka Randall Lay (Wintrop interim HC), DeLisha Milton-Jones (Old Dominion), Nikki McCray-Person (Mississippi State), Jesyka Burks-Wiley (FIU) and Nate Kilbert (Alcorn State).

Virginia might be the only women’s basketball team with former WNBA players or coaches on its coaching staff: HC Tina Thompson and Associate HC Karleen Thompson (no relation), a former W head coach, and Assistant Monica Wright Rogers, who played on two Minnesota Lynx title teams (2011 and 2013) in five pro seasons. Along with Assistant Walter Pitts, the UVA staff is all Black.