The Weekly: The lack of diversity among NCAA coaches

Cassidy Jackson, Audio Editor

CASSIDY JACKSON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Cassidy Jackson. Welcome to The Weekly. In this podcast, we’ll fill you in on the latest news and give you a deeper look at web editor Andrew Golden’s investigative article looking at the lack of diversity among NCAA coaches.

JACKSON: Here’s what you need to know this week. The Illinois House and Senate passed a bill that would require public schools to educate students on the LGBTQ community’s contributions to Illinois and U.S history. The bill now awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature.

JACKSON: Last Friday, an exhibit titled “Tibetans in Chicago: A story of resilience and success,” opened at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. It’s meant to tell the story of Chicago’s Tibetan refugee population, a community that grew after the Immigration Act of 1990 was passed. The exhibit is open to the public until Aug. 23.

JACKSON: On campus, starting July 1, Charles Whitaker will step into the role of dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Whitaker joined Medill’s faculty in 1993 and has served as interim dean of the school since July 2018.

JACKSON: Now for a deeper look at Golden’s article. I sat down with Golden to hear where the idea came from and take a deeper look at his experience investigating diversity trends in the NCAA.

JACKSON: Thank you for letting me interview you about this. First off like congratulations on the In Focus.

GOLDEN: Thanks!

JACKSON: Was this your first In Focus ever for The Daily?

GOLDEN: Yeah, that was my first In Focus. I didn’t think it was I was going to write an In Focus this quarter.

JACKSON: For people that might not know, how would you explain what an In Focus is?

GOLDEN: So an In Focus is like when you take, I guess, taking a problem or an issue and kind of like doing more in-depth research into like, why it’s happening. I think it’s just doing an in-depth story on something Northwestern-specific. My In Focus was about the lack of coaching diversity in the NCAA, specifically when it came to head coaches. And I focus specifically on sports where the majority of the athletes in that sport are black or people of color. Because in a lot of those sports, where the majority of athletes were people of color, the coaching numbers didn’t match up. So that’s why I really wanted to look at why those numbers didn’t match up.

JACKSON: How did the original idea come about?

GOLDEN: Representation in sports is something that’s always been important to me. I know at least growing up, I played baseball. I always looked up to black athletes in baseball, because there weren’t that many. And I wanted to know how representation was in terms of coaching. I knew in the Big Ten, football wise, there were a good amount of black head coaches for football. And for basketball, I think we hadn’t had one since like 2015. I knew that there hadn’t been a lot of black head coaches in Big Ten basketball, so I kind of wanted to look at why that was the case.

JACKSON: Over the course of the quarter and reporting on this, did your idea pivot in any way?

GOLDEN: My goal was just to not let any of my preconceived notions about what exactly was involved and why black coaches were not given those chances. I think I just wanted to go into it with an open slate. I think I learned a lot about stuff that I didn’t realize. I know one of them was about like AAU coaching and black coaches tend to do a lot of AAU coaching. But now with with new rules, there’s less AAU tournaments that NCAA coaches can go to that affects who gets seen. So there were a lot of new perspectives that came about.

JACKSON: And thinking about the preconceived notions you had like to keep in check, what were those? And I guess how did you keep those in check?

GOLDEN: I think my preconceived notions were that people just didn’t want to hire them because they didn’t think they were qualified. What I’ve learned is I don’t think it’s necessarily because they don’t think they’re qualified. I think people just tend to hire who they know or hire people who look like them and who they’re comfortable with instead of going outside their comfort zones. Something that’s really important as a journalist is to not let your biases get in the way. You need to let the sources tell the story

JACKSON: And obviously, over the course of writing this, you’re writing for an audience and and to get this story across from what the sources were saying, but how did this story touch you?

GOLDEN: There were some very touching stories about the various barriers that come to coaching. Every person’s story is different [which] allows you to look at a perspective that you hadn’t thought about. I know for black women in coaching in particular, I know one coach told me about how there was another black coach who waited 39 years before she became a head coach at another school. So 39 years of sitting, being assistant coach or not being a head coach, working your way up. You work for 39 years, and then you finally get the opportunity. I think that’s incredible. I think it speaks dividends to the problems that there are in the NCAA, when it comes to coaching and how far we have to go in order to make things more equitable for women of color and for coaches of color in general.

JACKSON: Throughout your In Focus, there were many subtopics representation in the Big Ten and intersectionality of black women coaches. Was there one of those topics that stood out to you in the reporting process?

GOLDEN: I think my favorite section is the section about money and being able to afford to coach. That section was extremely compelling, because I think that money, money really does kind of make the world go ’round, as cliche or whatever. It’s definitely cliche. But I think that money has a huge effect on who gets those opportunities. And there was one coach who, you know, said that he couldn’t have his mom pay his rent while he chased the dream of being a head coach. So he had to get a job working at J.P. Morgan so that way he could afford to be a coach. And now he’s the head coach, but that’s not something he could afford at the time, which I think is extremely compelling.

JACKSON: And can you talk more about how money works in coaching?

GOLDEN: With coaches, an easy route is through the graduate assistant role, which is where you’re an assistant coach, a graduate assistant coach, on a team. A couple years of experience where you get to be on the team, but you can only do it for a certain amount of time. And then you do become a head coach. But I think that way’s the easiest way, because you’re getting directly involved with the team right out of college. But they don’t make a lot of money. So some people don’t have the financial flexibility to go right to graduate assistant roles.

JACKSON: And another thing you wrote about in your article was how even some of the black coaches that got the opportunity to like coach for different programs, it was short-lived. What was that like hearing people’s stories around that?

GOLDEN: It’s really disappointing and another thing that I thought was interesting. Again, I think it’s about hiring who you’re comfortable with. The image of the black coach, they have a shorter lifespan because they have to live [up] to higher expectations very quickly and if they don’t, they just get cut off really quickly.

JACKSON: Over the course of working on this In Focus, what was the hardest part?

GOLDEN: I mean, there were a lot of hard parts. The hardest part…this is the first long story I’ve ever written before. So it was trying to figure out how to format it in a way, in a way where I felt like it was still compelling at the same time where I was getting my point across. I think the other thing is sources and trying to get people to agree to do interviews. I think that’s something that I struggled with early on and towards the end it started to pick up. It was definitely a learning curve, but I had a lot of fun doing it.

JACKSON: Yeah. What do you hope people that read your article got out of it or thought about after reading it?

GOLDEN: I just hope that there’s awareness drawn to the issue. There are still coaching disparities. I think everybody — Northwestern, the Big Ten, everybody in general — has to be better about not limiting their coaching search to who they know but really broadening that search and looking for a wide variety of people of diverse backgrounds and communities. I think it all starts at the top with the NCAA and who is hiring. So when you have a diverse group of people hiring at the top, then it’ll trickle down and [there will] be more opportunities for diverse people at the bottom. I think what I want people to take away is that in order to create diverse kinds of communities, you have to have diverse communities all around.

JACKSON: What have been the responses you got from people and just like how are you feeling in general?

GOLDEN: Overall, I’m just relieved. I’m just really glad that it got out before the end of the quarter. I’m just really blessed for the opportunity to be able to write it. I emailed a lot of my sources and they were like, “Great job on this. I really appreciate you bringing light to this issue,” which I really appreciated. I’m just blessed for, you know, all my sources being so open with their answers and being so candid, ‘cause it’s not an easy topic to talk about. You know, to all the editors who helped me with it, I was really grateful for their work too. And to everybody who else helped in the process like Northwestern archives, who was able to give me information. All the people who were involved in the background, whose names are on the byline, those are the people who I am most grateful for and thankful for. I’m relieved, but I’m also extremely grateful for everybody who helped out with it coming together because it wasn’t just me.

JACKSON: Thanks for listening. This is Cassidy Jackson, and I’ll see you next time.

Emails: [email protected]
Twitter: @cassidykjackson

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In Focus: How the NCAA’s institutional barriers shut out black coaches