Black coaches’ strategic skills too often overlooked

(l-r) Abe Woldeslassie and Timothy Eatman
Photos by Charles Hallman

Gains have been made, but stereotypes continue

Black coaches in almost every sport are historically undervalued and underrecognized as strategists. They are too often targets of unwarranted criticism on anything remotely related to their coaching. 

The Undefeated’s Jesse Washington wrote in 2021 that besides the often tougher road for them on the hiring trail, “The next layer of the problem is the stereotype of Black coaches as recruiters and “relate to’ers” instead of strategists and leaders, which is another way of saying that Black coaches aren’t as intelligent as White ones.”

Texas A&M Assistant Basketball Coach Sydney Carter said in a Feb. 16 Yahoo! article after she became a social media attack victim on her game-day clothes: “It’s hard enough that we’re not paid the same or that people think that we can’t do some of the same things or something as well as men in a male-dominated industry.”

Dawn Staley has won a national championship and led the U.S. to Olympic gold last summer and South Carolina to six SEC championships in seven years. Yet a GQ expanded article on Staley in June 2021 noted that the highly successful coach is often called too strict, her teams are too Black, she’s too outspoken, and her coaching style is too arrogant.

“Everybody else is saying what this Black woman is doing,” Staley said. “The conversations are around color because of our success.”

The “twice as good” yoke that Blacks historically are saddled with in nearly every aspect of American life applies even more so in sports, and doubly so for Black coaches. They are more than one-dimensional.

Coaches such as Staley, C. Vivian Stringer, Adia Barnes and others “are great coaches,” Rutgers Associate WBB Coach Timothy Eatman proudly pointed out. “They wouldn’t be where they are, won as many games, if they didn’t understand how to put a team together, and so some of the time we don’t get all the credit that we deserve.”

Eatman this season is acting in Stringer’s place while she is on medical leave. He reunited with the Hall of Famer at the school in 2015 after previously working with her during her final season at Iowa in 1994-95. 

He has over 20 years of coaching experience, including twice as head coach (Illinois-Chicago, 1998-02; Talladega College, 1988-90), interim HC (Boston College, 2011-12), and associate head coach at Arkansas (2007-11), as well as several assistant coaching stints.  

After last Thursday’s 79-61 win at Minnesota, Eatman told the MSR, “The good thing is our kids know” how good a coach Stringer is, especially with over 20 WNBA draft picks and many others who went on to play overseas ball. “Our kids know when they get to the league and they want to stay in the league,” said Eatman, “they understand all the teaching that they got.”

Macalester last weekend played its first MIAC playoff game and notched its first postseason win since 2004 by defeating St. Scholastica at home. This is Abe Woldeslassie’s fourth season, the MIAC’s only Black coach since 2018.

“I want to be a great recruiter,” he told the MSR after the victory. “I want to be a great defensive coach. I want to be a great offensive coach. I want to be great at X’s and O’s, and I hope that people are starting to realize that I can do that.”

Eatman said mainstream media refuse to fully credit Black coaches for their abilities, the kind of credit their White counterparts too often receive. But those who really know, really count, give credit where due. “When your kids come back to you and tell you, that’s the best feeling in the world,” he said.

“There are so many coaches before me that never got the opportunity I did,” said Woldeslassie. “So I take it seriously and I know that hopefully if I’m successful, more coaches will get opportunities.”