By: Jacqie McWilliams, Commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association
I am not a sports fan, but I am a fan of sports.
Let me explain.
Sports have significant benefits. They bring communities together. They provide opportunities for growth. Sports open doors, offer important life lessons, and help people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds overcome challenges and obstacles thrown in their paths. As a Black woman, I have benefited personally and professionally from being involved in sports. Through sports, I have realized many of my own dreams.
For me, the athletic community has been at the forefront of national discussions about a range of important issues, from integrity to equity, sexual harassment, and race. I have witnessed or been involved with these issues firsthand for many years. One issue I discuss often is the lack of progress in the recruitment and hiring of minorities to leadership positions in intercollegiate athletics. “We can’t find them” is repeatedly used as the underlying reason. From my perspective—as a Black woman in a position of influence—the reason for the so-called dearth of candidates is not that we don’t exist. Rather, it is because people of color have not been put in positions that would prepare them to move up the ranks and gain access to the pipeline. It is not surprising that we can’t be found, especially when we are not in positions to be seen.
I am impressed by how well strategic recruitment is done at all levels of sport. Coaches and organizations seek the best athletic talent throughout the country, wherever that might be. They are willing to recruit in places that many would dare not go, except in the interest of creating the best team. I often wonder why this same strategy is not used to recruit, train, and promote talented minorities, specifically minority women, who continue to be left behind. If those in power could see the value of identifying talent in places that may be unfamiliar and meet talent where they are, maybe more minorities would be provided the opportunities they deserve and also be trained to gain access beyond entry-level positions. To continue to identify and talk about the barriers is simply not enough. We all are responsible as leaders to invest in diverse talent to build inclusive teams that represent who we say we are as an athletic community.
Additionally, minorities have a role, too. They must develop and share the strategies they use to fulfill their goals and dreams. They must identify leaders who value them for more than the color of their skin or gender. Leaders who have the authority to influence hiring practices must reject forces that hinder progress. They must be willing to change the culture and refute the dreaded “we can’t find them” excuse. As a leader in this industry, I am confident that with Commitment, Integrity, Attitude, and Aptitude we will be found. After all, I was.