NCAA Highlights Meaning of Black History Month for Those in Athletics

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February is Black History Month, an opportunity to recognize, celebrate and champion the contributions of African Americans and other Black people. 

"Celebrating Black History Month," a resource guide from the NCAA office of inclusion, highlights the historical significance of the observance and offers practical ways to celebrate, center and champion Black history and Black people. 

According to the NCAA demographics database, Black student-athletes made up 16% of the student-athlete population in 2022, and 13% of athletics directors were Black. In addition, the NCAA has 53 historically Black colleges and universities as members.

We discussed the experiences of Black coaches and administrators and current and former student-athletes to commemorate the month and hear directly from the following:

  • Ralph Burley, men's basketball assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, Goucher. 
  • Marquetta Dickens, women's basketball head coach, William Peace. 
  • Eli Kosiba, men's track and field student-athlete, Grand Valley State. 
  • Donovan Wilson, McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative Future Leader, Colorado, and former men's basketball student-athlete at Puget Sound.

Q: What does Black History Month mean to you?

Burley: To me, it's an opportunity for Black athletes to voice their opinion. Even though it's for 28 days out of 365, we get to be in front of the camera and speak up about what it means to us.

Dickens: Black History Month is special in the sense because of where I come from. I'm from Princeville, North Carolina, which is the first town chartered by Blacks in America. I didn't learn my own history until 2016, when my hometown was in jeopardy of being washed away due to flooding. Me as an adult now, it means more. It means really taking pride in the heritage and culture in which I come from.

Kosiba: Black History Month is a time we can celebrate the achievements of those who came before us, but also the things Black people are doing and the strides they are making right now.

Wilson: Black History Month symbolizes a month where Black people are really able to celebrate themselves. Not even the month itself, but recognize the accomplishments and things that Black people had to go through to get to where we are.

Q: Why do you think it's important to center Black voices, especially in the athletics community?

Kosiba: It's important because it allows us to tell our stories, accomplishments and contributions of those from the past but also currently. I feel like in the athletic community, it's important because it inspires kids across the country from all different backgrounds to continue chasing their dreams.

Wilson: It's important to center Black voices because Black voices are so often oppressed or suppressed from society. In the athletics industry and society in general, it's very white- dominant. 

In my undergraduate experience, our athletics department really did a good job of helping Black athletes feel inclusive. It wasn't perfect, but they did try. That was something important to me being on the basketball team. As Black male athletes, it was important for us to know we had a sense of belonging on our campus and team. 

Q: Can you share the significance of being a Black coach, student-athlete or administrator at your institution?

Burley: The fact that I'm a Black coach, I represent some of the kids that aren't sure whether a Black person can make it. 

Dickens: I'm the only Black coach at my institution with a population of over 50% Black student-athletes. For me, I don't take that lightly at all. Coming to this institution, I knew that, and I knew that representation was important and it was a necessity. For our young folks to see someone who looks like them is important.

Kosiba: For me, I'm prideful of it. I'm in a position now where I have the opportunity to inspire the younger generation, and I hold that real close to me. There was one point where I was looking up to dudes, I wanted to be like them at the next level. Seeing guys like me doing that always pushed me.     

Q: What advice do you have for Black people looking to follow your path?

Burley: Don't say you're more than you are. Don't say you are less than you are. Be real to the people you deal with. 

Wilson: One of the biggest pieces of advice I've ever gotten was be authentic, be yourself. When it comes to Black people in the working world or even the athletics industry, there's this idea of professionalism â€” white professionalism, if that makes sense. I think a lot of times Black people feel like they have to code switch in a way to fit into whatever the industry or environment is. The biggest thing for me that I've learned is to be authentic, be my true self. 

Q: Is there anything additional about Black History Month you'd like to share?

Burley: I have two grandchildren. This is for young Black people getting what they want. Most of the … kids want to play basketball or football, but they need (to) branch out and play other sports like lacrosse, baseball, anything. I want to see them make it in life, but not just in basketball or football.

Dickens: What I want to highlight for Black History Month is to know, understand and learn your own personal Black history. It starts with you and then being able to educate others on the Black history of yourself, your family and ancestry. Be intentional.

Wilson: Something I'd like to highlight is the accomplishments of Black women in sports. When we think Black history in sports, it's often male-dominated. … Black men wouldn't be where we are today without Black women. The accomplishments and contributions that Black women have made in sports and society in general should be highlighted within Black History Month.

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