Sports, Race, and Fatherhood Part 3: The Evolution of a Leader


Being on paternity leave for 7-weeks allows for ample time to bond and grow with your new child; see, smell, and experience a full range of poop; and continually search for a link between sports, race, and the broader spectrum of societal issues. The Sports, Race and Fatherhood series highlights my experience as a first-time father, as I make meaning for myself and my daughter of a number race and gender issues in athletics.

Part 1: Elation, Sleeplessness, and Serena Williams

Part 2: Surprises, Determination, and the Black Box

Paternity leave is coming to an abrupt end. Returning: eight-hour works shifts. Four of which involve actively conceiving strategies to disappear from my office without anyone noticing. Ending: 10:00am home workouts, daily father-daughter walks around the neighborhood, and ice-cream-only lunches. Fear not, as Sports Race and Fatherhood will not be ending. It will continue long past part four because, well, this parenting thing is not going anywhere. So I give you permission to rejoice.

During leave my daily schedule has been somewhat consistent. Here is the landscape of the day: mom wakes up at 7:30am; baby awakens famished at 7:45am; mom provides the only source of food at the moment, so she takes care of this; mom eats breakfast, brushes teeth and prepares to shower around 8:10; baby lays awake and ponders new strategies to wreak havoc on daddy at 8:30am; I roll over, wipe crust from my eyes, and check the performance of my fantasy basketball team at 8:45am; mom exits the house at 8:50am.

This is when the real battle begins. Is this Cali’s house, or J-Mal’s? Who is in charge, me or her?

Baby and I engage in an intense stare down around 8:55am–both deciding who captains the ship; dad places baby in rocker so that he can handle natural bodily functions like checking email at 9:10am; baby handles her own bodily functions around 9:25am defiling her entire outfit. Screaming ensues at 9:35am and loosely translated, I am pretty sure Cali is saying “pick me up now you fool, and help me fall asleep, or you won’t enjoy your life.”

I think I’m losing round one.

After walking two miles around my living room with my daughter in tow, watching Cali stare at every moving and inanimate object in her purview, 9:55am she crashes and I get to again fail at accomplishing 25 full minutes of T25. 10:15am I pull my lifeless body off the living room floor and attempt to produce some amalgamation of food, most people call breakfast. 10:22am screaming ensues. Loosely translated “I know you don’t think you are about to eat before me.” 10:27am I feed Cali. This process continues until mom comes home for lunch around noon. Then, and only then, do I get to eat, bathe, and essentially perform any functions that adult J-Mal never once had to receive permission to accomplish. Not only did I lose round two, but I actually failed the competition before it started. I learned a very important lesson.

I am not the boss.  

Have you seen that State Farm commercial where the man says all the things he is never going to do, but ends up doing them anyway? That was me, but not really. But kinda. I swore up and down that never would my daughter take up space in my luxurious, Tempurpedic, memory-foam, king size, throne. Each side of the bed was perfectly lumped to fit the curvature of me and my wife. One night (or should I say, the first night) I see Cali, inhabiting all of my bedside. Her drool marks her territory on my pillow. She stares at me, daring me to do anything but walk away. I’m pretty sure I just got hit with a Captain Phillips.

11-week old Cali enjoys her new favorite spot, hijacking her father’s side of the bed.

I love this though. My daughter is basically telling us that she ready to lead. She is learning the ropes by bossing her daddy around the house, and this can only serve her well once she becomes an adult. Then she will be bossing around all of your adult children. 

They say that leaders are not born, they are created. Too often, especially in sports, the leader that has been “created” is usually male, and/or not a person of color. Sports arenas, typically male dominated, have progressively made strides to include more women as coaches and upper level administrators. Unfortunately, this process towards equality usually leads a slow, painful path. In similar fashion to Fortune 500 companies, in which only 4% of CEO’s are women, college and professional sports maintain a very patriarchal directorate.  

Think about this: the Women’s National Basketball Association, filled with professional basketball playing women, currently operates 12 franchises. Of those 12 teams, seven of them are coached by men

Continue thinking: this 2014 article discusses the trend that women are not actually in charge women’s collegiate sports programs. The article states that 59.8 percent of female athletes are coached by men. Paul Fessler, a male coach for the Concordia University women’s basketball team shared his opinion on this matter.  

The most qualified coach should get the job, Fessler said. But he added: ‘As a male, I might be in the minority: I think, all things being equal, you should always hire the female to coach the female sport.’’ Fessler agrees with the notion that young women athletes need women coaches as role models. Fessler’s three assistants are all women.

A novel idea that women probably should coach women. But Fessler, while cognizant of the issue, is still representative of the larger problem. Even in sports where women make up all of the players, they still are not leading the way. In fact, the numbers of women coaching women’s college basketball has been declining since 2010.  

Highlighting this concept from a racial perspective, only one of the 12 WNBA coaches–Pokey Chatman of the Chicago Sky–is a woman of color, and according to a 2009-10 NCAA report, Black women only held 35 of the 300 possible Division I women’s head coaching jobs (White women held 166 of those positions). The Black women who have received the opportunity to serve as head coaches have shined, so one would have to wonder what factors are contributing to the low rates.  

Kathryn Smith makes history as the first full-time female assistant in the NFL. But the questions remains if a woman of color will ever receive a similar opportunity.

I recognize that Cali will face many invisible barriers on her journey to becoming the eventual leader she is destined to become. In athletics, gender can still impede upward progression as a professional. However, some sports are beginning to make progress. In 2014, the San Antonio Spurs hired the first female NBA assistant coach by offering NCAA and WNBA standout Becky Hammon the opportunity to break the gender barrier. The NFL followed suit as when the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter as an assistant coach during training camp and preseason activities. Eventually, the Buffalo Bills in January 2016 hired the first full-time female assistant coach when they inked Kathryn Smith to a contract, in which she will serve as the team’s quality control coach. Try to forget the fact that you have no idea how to coach quality control and what that may entail.  

While hiring female coaches into the NBA and NFL represents progress, women, and more specifically women of color, are still lacking as professional coaches and college administrators. In 2012, women only represented 8.2 percent of Division I athletic directors, with women of color making up a small fraction of this number. Black women have yet to crack the coaching racial barrier of the NBA, the NFL, and as mentioned above, they are barely represented in the WNBA and Division I Women’s Basketball. If we believe that women are qualified to hold these positions, we have to identify not only patriarchal standards that the “boys club” of sports have typically represented, but also bring to light the underlined racial bias that impacts Black women and other women of color disproportionately.  

Women of color face what Black feminists have coined as “double jeopardy,” fighting gender and racial barriers in order to succeed, a plight that the sports world has yet to adequately address. In order to lead others, one must have a vision along with many other qualities such as character, an ability to motivate, good communication skills–and in the sports realm–a passion and desire to win. None of these traits are inherent to one gender or one racial background.    

Women such as Chatman, Joi Williams (Univ. Central Florida Head Women’s Basketball Coach); Dawn Staley (Univ. of South Carolina Head Women’s Basketball Coach), C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers Univ. Head Women’s Basketball Coach), Lisa Campos (Univ. of Northern Arizona Athletic Director), Tamica Smith Jones (UC Irvine Athletic Director), and many others have not only succeeded, but paved the way for the next generation of female leaders in the sports world.

Just as my daughter (thinks she) has earned the right to serve as the leader when mom is at work, women of color have definitively earned the right and the opportunity to lead. Professional and college sports need to be searching for qualified persons to (wo)man the posts of coach, general manager, vice president, and athletic director.

And when her time comes, I’m pretty sure Cali will be up for the challenge.