“I think that these young women, if we really care about them as people, that they will have role models that look like them. Because they are going to play four years for whomever, and then they get an opportunity to go in this world, and they are not going to find anybody that looked like them, and they are going to have to figure out how to navigate at a different level. The fight is for the next young lady that needs a person who looks like her to rise above and to be coached up and create a foundation so that she can become the COO, the CFO of something very big. It’s important that they stay in the race and keep fighting. We see them. You’re out there. Keep fighting. Go forward.” – The University at Buffalo head women’s basketball coach Felicia Legette-Jack
As the second African-American president in the 64-year history of the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA), I have learned that my purpose in college athletics is bigger than I ever imagined after entering the profession in 2004.
Legette-Jack’s quote following the NCAA tournament in March resonated with many, including myself.
It’s a responsibility not taken lightly. It is my hope that someone of color sees me as a president of a major athletics organization and wants to aspire to this prestigious position. I understand that I am opening doors and paving the way for others to follow.
An overwhelming percentage of our student-athletes are African-American or of mixed ethnicity and yet they don’t have many people they can identify with when they look at collegiate athletic administration roles like athletic communications.
Even though I have met and worked with numerous talented athletics communications professionals throughout my career, it has been discouraging to witness the high turnover rate as many young professionals and minorities are disappearing from the field for various reasons. Some are burned out by the amount of work and sacrifices needed to perform at a consistently high level. Others are frustrated and don’t see this as a long-term career.
Another concern in this profession has been the lack of diversity, especially the number of minorities working outside of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In a recent study by Richard Lapchick, a renowned author of the report cards that track diversity issues in sports, it was found that our profession received a rough grade for its diversity.
This isn’t an easy fix.
Inclusion begins with understanding that others are not granted equal power or access. Sadly, a lot of organizations are still unaware even after research and studies show this to be true, over and over again.
However, our athletic organization CoSIDA has become an industry leader in making diversity and inclusion a priority among its membership through educational programs, additional grant awards specifically targeting women and minorities, and the establishment of a diversity and inclusion committee doing wonderful and collaborative work in our profession.
A few tips on how we can increase diversity especially in athletic communications:
- Utilize our various networks to assist others into the profession. That’s so clutch. It’s another way of paying it forward. We don’t have all the answers, but we can make sure we get a person in touch with the right individual for personal and professional growth.
- Encourage colleagues and push to increase the minimum pay. Having strong relationships within your network makes you more effective and valuable because your associates will be willing to extend themselves on your behalf. Believe in your ability to add value to your mentor/connection.
Mentoring can have widespread implications beyond boosting individual careers. By giving folks a necessary leg up in broadening their options and fine-tuning their skills, mentoring changes the face of one organization and can help change the makeup of a department. By encouraging people to join, grow, succeed, and stay in the profession, it expands diversity, one person at a time.
After all, our student-athletes need people they can identify with, no matter what they plan to do once they earn their degree.