New Wave of Activism? Context matters in social movements. The socioeconomic climate of the times dictates underlying issues of movements as well as the mode of activism. I asked Dr. Edwards if he thought there was a “New Wave” of activism building today, “Well, you have to understand that all generations have approached issues in different ways. You had Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens and Joe Lewis who approached it as a struggle for legitimacy. Jack Johnson used to follow white heavyweights around and say, ‘Hey I can beat you. And the only reason you won’t find me is because you’re afraid that I’ll beat you, I’m a legitimate boxer.’ The ethos at the time was that any success they got was a situation of luck or an accident. So most were in the international arena” “Then in the post WWII years, the struggle was for access, and that’s when you had Kenny Washington and Woody Strode integrating the NFL and in baseball, Jackie Robinson, you had Chuck Cooper in the NBA. The struggle was for access, we knew we were legitimate, we could beat everybody in the world. Jack Johnson and Jesse Owens had proved that. Once the struggle for legitimacy was resolved, then the struggle was for access” “Then in the 1960s, there were great athletes, Jim Brown, Muhammed Ali, and Arthur Ashe, who struggled for dignity and respect. Access for them was not enough.” So what then are the issues at hand today for Black women athletes and what is the form of activism that is precipitating change? It seems that legitimacy, access, respect and dignity are all still part of the struggle of Black women in sports. When Dr. Edwards, said there were no organized group of women attacking issues affecting them, he overlooked one important organization, such as the Black Women in Sport Foundation (BWSF), led by Tina Sloan Green, the first African-American head coach in the history of women’s intercollegiate lacrosse, that has advocated for African American women in sports for 25 years.
Black Women and Title IX According to the New York Times, Tina Sloan Green and 19 other prominent African American women with connections to athletics convened in 2012 covered to strategize on ways to tackle issues of race and gender in sport. The most recent (2013) annual Racial and Gender Report Card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) reveals evidence of disparate benefits of Title IX gained among Black and White women (and even White men) in
college athletics, over 40 years after the passing of legislation calling for gender equity: • • •
There are no African American athletic directors at any Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools African Americans held 7.7 percent, 4.1 percent and four percent of the women’s head coaching positions at Divisions I, II, and III respectively For Division I women’s basketball, African American women head coaches held 14.3 percent of the positions in 2012-2013. This number sharply contrasts to the 48.2 percent of African American student athletes who played basketball. In 2012-2013 African Americans held 14.1 percent, 8.6 percent and 6.7 percent of the women’s assistant coach positions in Division I, II, and III respectively; a decline shown in Divisions II and III from the previous year.
The low representation numbers of African American women in leadership position in college sports reflects a similar trend in the larger world of sports. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has begun to pay scholarly attention to the perceived barriers in college coaching and administration faced by women of color. While it is important to identify obstacles to more effectively address disparities, it is equally important to recognize those, such as Tina Sloan Green and others who have earned important roles in sport who have opened doors for the Taya Reimer in college sports. Through organizations such as BWSF, Black women former athletes are now engaging in the struggle where they stand, as leaders in academia, boardrooms and communities. A new report by Ernst and Young’s Women Athletes Business Network and EspnW found that a majority of high-level executives had once been athletes: Fifty-two percent of women on boards or with CEO, CFO, or COO titles had played a sport at the university level (and, at other management levels, 39 percent had done so). We must educate and mentor the coming generations of young Black women athletes to carry on the struggle for equity in sport and beyond.