You want to know how much progress African-American women have made in collegiate athletics?
Start at the top.
The very top.
Now lift one finger.
That’s how many African-American women are upper-level NCAA Division I athletic administrators.
“There are 17 women who are athletic administrators” in Divisions I, II and III, Northeastern Illinois athletic director Vivian Fuller said Saturday. “You have only one African-American woman at a Division I institution. And that’s me.”
Fuller, speaking at the 10th annual Black Coaches Association convention, told of her rise from Division III softball and volleyball coach to Division I athletic director. She encouraged BCA membership to follow her example and blaze their own trails into administrative positions.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Fuller said. “We’ve already planted a lot of seeds - planted them in student-athletes. But we haven’t seen as much growth on the administrative side as on the participatory side. There are a lot of weeds out there. Athletics is choking because we haven’t hired a lot of African-Americans. We’ve got to go out there, pull those weeds and show them we are here.”
Tina Sloan-Green, Temple lacrosse coach and executive director of the Black Women in Sports Foundation, also addressed BCA membership on the topic: The Status of African-Americans in Sports - Women and Men.
CBS analyst and former USC basketball coach George Raveling was supposed to address the male side of the issue. But a scheduling conflict precluded him from attending.
Sloan-Green said her foundation is making a difference for African-American women: providing sports program internships to college graduates, awarding grants to students, helping young girls become nationally ranked tennis players.
“A ranking almost guarantees a scholarship,” Sloan-Green said.
Sloan-Green and Fuller acknowledged the formidable obstacles of racism and sexism. They also said Title IX - a federal law banning gender discrimination at schools receiving government money - has helped more white women than black women.
“But we need to stop complaining and take active roles and empower ourselves and others whose mission is to increase opportunities for African-American women,” Sloan-Green said.
Fuller exhorted aspiring coaches to network aggressively, apply for jobs that match their strengths and expand their vision.
“I decided I didn’t want to be a coach because I didn’t see coaches making a whole lot of decisions,” Fuller said. “I thought that if I could get an administrative job, I could help make those decisions.”
But Fuller quickly lost interest in her first administrative job - compliance director at North Carolina A&T.
“That seems to be a position you find a lot of blacks in,” she said. “But I advise you not to get pigeonholed in any position. … I got burned out. It was always problem-solving, always trying to keep people eligible.”
The climb from coaching to Division I athletic administration can be slow, tedious. But Fuller encouraged her peers to be willing to start at the bottom.
At Division III.
Just like she did.