Black women are winning in athletics and I’m not talking about the obvious success we experience on the tennis courts, basketball courts, tracks, or gymnastics mats, etc. I’m talking about the amazing women who work behind the scenes to support the athletes who are making history–we are black women in collegiate athletics administration and coaching. Our wins have come during a time when hiring practices of black women in college coaching and administration are abysmal. Despite the hiring of our collective SHEro and Redeemer Carla Williams as the Director of Athletics at the University of Virginia, making her the first black woman leading an FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) athletic department, there are still too few opportunities for us in college sports. Out of 130 institutions on this level, Carla is the only black woman leading a program, even though 12.5% of the athletes in Division I college sports are black women; over 43% of women’s basketball players in Division I are black, but only 11.4% of coaches on that level are black women. We simply aren’t represented in these ranks, but that doesn’t change our commitment to serving student-athletes and positively impacting lives.
We are addressing this void by building strong networks with other black women in athletics. We are straight balling in our support of one another. Major organizations have created spaces and programs for the empowerment and advancement of women in athletics administration and coaching. There are organized spaces for the development of people of color in athletics administration and coaching. There are no organizations whose exclusive mission is to address the intersectionality of being both black and a woman in intercollegiate athletics – an industry dominated by white men. So, doing what we do best, we’ve identified the problem and developed our own strategies for fixing it. We carve out time for one another at conferences and conventions to learn from one another. We network in our own special way, whether it be at bottomless brunches or on golf courses. In addition to sharing our tools for success with one another, we share our goals and aspirations. We hold each other accountable. We tell each other the hard truth because we understand we must be twice as good. WE HIRE ONE ANOTHER. In short, we lift as we climb.
Several years ago, I was a finalist for an Athletic Director job. The finalists were publicized (because for whatever reason intercollegiate athletics puts your business out there for all to see – what other industry does that!?!?). When I found out a sista/friend/colleague of mine was also a finalist, I called her and said, “Girl if I don’t get this job, I hope you do!” We then shared what we knew about the search process with each other. You see, despite being competitors, we cheered for one another. This type of sisterhood is at the core of many relationships between black women who work in athletics. We know that if one of us succeeds, we all succeed (by the way, neither of us got the job, but it wasn’t for lack of preparation, experience, or competence).
We, the exclusive Delegation of Black Women in Athletics Administration and Coaching, have developed our own magical sorority within the profession. This sisterhood is one of talented, committed, and fearless women who understand the necessity of being represented in all spaces. We are passionate about the great responsibility we have to all the student-athletes with whom we work, but especially the ones that look like us. We are building on the foundation our foremothers in this industry laid for us and we won’t stop until we are represented and celebrated on the sidelines and administrative offices, just as we are on the field of play. Ms. Carla may be the first, but she won’t be the last.