By Patrice Nkrumah
The number of African-American women filling important positions in the sports landscape has been increasing in the past few years. Former Chicago Sky player Swin Cash is now the vice-president of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans.
In February, Ohio native Blake Bolden became a pro scout for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, becoming the first woman of any race to be employed in that capacity. Lindsey Harding is an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76’ers.
Black women are also making inroads in the college ranks as well. In May, Vanderbilt University in Nashville made headlines when they named Candice Storey Lee their athletic director, making her the first African American to lead a Power Five conference’s athletic program. Lee’s selection shows just how far Black women have come in sports administration and how the opportunities are there for those who are prepared.
On this past month’s episodes of “What’s Up Cuz!,” a podcast done on SportsZone Chicago, in conjunction with the Chicago Crusader, the hosts, Lance Irvin and Jason Palmer, interviewed two Black women who are rising in the NCAA ranks.
Jill Redmond is the senior associate commissioner for the Atlantic 10 Conference and winner of the Nell Jackson Award, which is bestowed annually to a senior-level athletics administrator. This award is given to an individual who demonstrates qualities, such as courage, conviction and perseverance and who is an advocate for gender equity and diversity. Redmond is responsible for NCAA compliance and governance for the schools in the conference.
Redmond said it is important for young people in the Black community to know there are many careers within the athletics genre that do not deal with playing and coaching. She said administrative careers can be quite rewarding, and the doors for Black women are swinging open.
“There is never a dull moment with my job,” Redmond said with a laugh. “There are a lot of layers to the NCAA. I have to do a lot with the entire structure, and it is about being knowledgeable and supporting all of those different structures to ensure that rules are being followed and being created that will affect not just current athletes, but future ones as well.”
She told the hosts one of the toughest aspects of her job came this past spring when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States in the middle of the Atlantic 10’s basketball tournament and right when spring sports were about to start. Redmond went on to say that she was getting phone calls around the clock on what the conference would do while she and others had to make a decision on what was best for the health of the athletes and coaches and also weighing concerns from the schools as well.
“We had to figure out what was the right thing to do. Canceling our men’s tournament and spring sports really challenged us to manage the situation,” she began. “At the time, we were thinking perhaps we could come back in the [sic] couple of weeks. But now, months into this pandemic, we are just trying to manage the anxiety of our athletes and their mental health.” Redmond continued, “I had to update our administrators daily for the first two months, and I think that is where my experience in governance really helped me.”
She said she sees so many women of color coming up behind her and seeking careers in sports administration, and if one looks back into recent history, you can see where progress has been made.
“There are 32 Division I conferences and about one-third of the commissioners are women. You look back 10 years ago and there were only women in these roles. It is important because as young girls and women, they need to know they can aspire to be anything. We have to continue to be there to pull up whoever is next, and I have benefitted from those who have mentored me. As I meet young women, I make sure they have my resume as well as me receiving theirs.”
Chicago native Kelly Bond-White, Texas A&M University associate head coach, also joined the fellas. She played her prep basketball at Whitney Young and collegiately at the University of Illinois in Champaign. White, who many believe will be a head coach in the next year or two, said she never anticipated being in College Station, Texas for the past 18 years and joked she was set up in order to get her to stay.
“The plan was never to be down here 18 years,” White explained. “I was going to come here to make some coaching connections and then come back to Chicago. My head coach, though, is a heck of a recruiter, and they planted this guy, who I fell in love with who is from Houston, and he became my husband.”
She said with a laugh, “As any assistant will tell you, our number one role is to develop men and women. The next role is to be an extension of your head coach and put them in the best light with the players you are bringing into the program. We’re educators, and I’ve never lost sight of that.”
In addition to developing players on the court, White says developing the people she coaches is very important. That has come to the forefront this year with the social justice initiatives taking place throughout the sports world after the murder of George Floyd and the killing of Breonna Taylor.
She offered this advice to her players, “Never let anyone silence you or take your voice. It might come at a cost, but that was the most important thing I wanted them to learn.”
White said the players also took initiatives to get more involved by demanding the university use more Black vendors when it comes to the athletic programs and requesting that some of the gear the team wears and equipment that is given to them by sponsors goes to African-American programs in need of assistance. She believes changes like this can only be made when African Americans are in key positions to make change.
White added that Black women moving into other arenas within the NCAA ranks is something she is proud to see and believes it comes with proper mentoring and getting the right connections.
One of those who mentors Black sports college administrators is Gail Dent, who currently serves as an associate director for the NCAA and who focuses on external and strategic communications. Much of her work deals with diversity, equity and inclusion in college sports, which includes mentoring African Americans who want to get into the sports management aspect.
Sometimes women are not self-promoters, so they often miss out on opportunities White shared. She said her personality is not about self-promotion, but she has received advice in the past that has her thinking differently.
Redmond started her career in college athletics as an athletic trainer. She was also a sports information director. She said there are so many different career opportunities in college sports and that Black women should seek fields that fit their interests. Some of the areas she said they should consider are event planning, logistics, equipment management and IT positions.
“The best advice I have is getting those internships to find out what you like and to also try a variety of things, so you don’t get pigeon-holed,” Redmond said. “Don’t sell yourself short and don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do something.