Over the past 50 years, we have seen sports evolve from merely entertainment to big business, one featuring an amalgamation of races, backgrounds, and perspectives. Through the ever-changing landscape, we learn about ourselves as sports feature poignant moments that often reflect our society.
Today, the major American sports are increasingly influenced by the presence of minorities, with figures like Lebron James, Colin Kaepernick, and Blake Griffin being idolized by the next generation with hopes and dreams of the pro athlete life. Where once black bodies were regarded as a means to an end, a way for teams to have a leg up on the predominantly white competition, they are now heroes, loved–and in some cases, hated–for their skill and presence in the game.
In fact, in the NBA, African-Americans make up 80-percent of the playing field, while in the NFL it is 70-percent. As a whole, black people make up only about 10-percent of America’s total population, meaning that blacks are over-represented seven and eight times, respectively, in sports.
On the coaching front however, some things have yet to progress as quickly.
One of the knocks against professional sports in America is that there are not an adequate amount of minorities in leadership position, something the NFL and NBA have been trying to rectify for decades. On the NCAA front things are better, but coaching and front office jobs are still largely dominated by white men.
During Black History Month, we often focus on the successes and contributions that black athletes have made on the game, but what is often overlooked is that same implication on the coaching realm. Coaches like Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Stanford’s David Shaw in NCAA athletics, and others still like Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith, and Tony Dungy in the NFL have made landmark achievements for blacks seeking leadership roles, and their efforts will not go unnoticed.
But how did they get there? What is the road paved for black coaches in athletics, and how is it still changing to this day?
To get some insight into tje journey of African American coaches, Reign of Troy sat down with Tee Martin, the wide receivers coach at USC. From his journey as a collegiate quarterback to a collegiate coach, Tee has seen the role of the black coach evolve firsthand.
During his tenure as a player at Tennessee in the late 90s, there were hardly any black coaches on staff, let alone in NCAA athletics, but things were beginning to change.
“It was starting to turn where more African-American coaches were getting into it,” said Martin. “At my time, you had your older, more established coaches who had their positions for a long time.”
“And at the time, there were two younger African-American coaches, and it was a big part of my decision to [Tennessee] because I felt comfortable with them,” said Martin. “I felt like I could relate, and I still have a relationship with them to this day.”