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Dawn Staley opens up about continuing legacy of great Black coaches at Final 4

Dawn Staley opens up about continuing legacy of great Black coaches at Final 4
Dawn Staley (Image source: Instagram – @staley05)

The dialogue around women’s basketball in recent years has been loud and clear — the stories of Black women need to be projected more.

Power Plays highlighted the report of White players getting twice as much coverage as Black players, despite Black players making up over 80% of the WNBA. It’s an issue that the arguable face of the sport, UCONN sophomore Paige Bueckers, brought up after winning an ESPY in 2021.

The discrimination from within women’s basketball goes all the way to coaching. White coaches like Tara Vanderveer, Geno Auriemma and the late Pat Summitt are often regarded as some of the sport’s best coaches ever, while Black coaches are typically given little to no room for error.

“I just feel like Black female coaches have been the voiceless, the ones that don’t really get the opportunity to fail,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said during a Final Four press conference Tuesday morning. “We don’t get the opportunity to fail. It is win at all costs, and if you don’t, don’t seek another opportunity.”

For example, WNBA legend Tina Thompson was fired as the University of Virginia’s coach this past season after being hired in 2018. She went 30-68 at the position. Auriemma went 26-28 from 1985-1987 in his first two seasons at UCONN, for comparison.

An example Staley gave was South Carolina assistant coach Jolette Law. Law is a former Harlem Globetrotter and the head coach at Illinois from 2007 to 2012, where she went 69-93. Since being fired, she’s been an assistant at Tennessee and South Carolina for the past decade.

“I think she got about four years to succeed and it didn’t happen,” Staley said. “She’s been an assistant coach, a top assistant coach in our game for these past 10 years, and maybe she’s a little more selective in the jobs that she goes after because she’s been scarred. She’s been scarred.”

Staley, the former WNBA point guard and Olympic gold medalist, is now the highest-paid coach in women’s college basketball as she signed a seven-year, $22.4 million extension in October 2021. South Carolina has made eight-straight Sweet 16’s and is now in their second-consecutive Final Four.

“[When] you get into coaching, and I truly believe other people make you look at the color of your skin, by how they treat you, by how you aren’t top-tier when it comes to opportunities to coach,” Staley said. “Somebody has really failed for Black women to get an opportunity, and then when they get an opportunity, if they fail, you’re reduced to being an assistant coach. You don’t get recycled to another head coaching position.”

With Staley’s platform and public acknowledgment of Black coaches, she hopes to capitalize on the attention the demographic is receiving.

“It’s popular to hire a Black coach now, so maybe [Law will] get some decent looks to where it is somewhere that will give her a chance to be successful,” Staley said.

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