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The annual Racial and Gender Report Card for professional and college sport, which I write, is mistakenly viewed by some as a tool to encourage the hiring of people of color and women. My goal, and the goal of most who work in diversity management, is to push for the best person to be hired, whether that person is African-American, Latino, Asian, Native American or white, and whether that person is male or female.
The problem: We hire white men in overwhelming numbers, while people of color and women often are excluded from the search process itself.
Today, I applaud Delaware State University, a historically black university, for its courage in hiring Chuck Bell, who happens to be white, as its new athletics director in the face of certain opposition. Already, people at the school are saying it's wrong for a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to have a white athletics director.
I am confident Bell will serve the school's mission and vision for its future, but he will have a difficult time overcoming the critics. One must ask the question: Is the university best served by hiring the best people of color, or the best people irrespective of color? It seems in this case, it made the decision to hire the person it considers to be the most talented.
There will be people on Delaware State's campus, as well as at other schools, who hope Bell fails. But based on his previous record, failure seems unlikely.
Some will view him, unfairly, as an "overseer," dictating to his staff. Bell is going to have to consider all of his decisions very carefully, with an eye toward how they will be perceived on campus; and in many ways, that puts him in an unfair situation -- a situation the few African-Americans who have been ADs on predominantly white campuses have also endured.
Bell, who has hired many people of color as head coaches in his previous roles, knows unfair expectations often are placed on people of color who are hired for a high-profile position. I think Bell, who hired Dr. Fitz Hill as head football coach at San Jose State, can work with the table reversed at Delaware State.
Shelly Terry is a former basketball player at Alabama A&M, also an HBCU. She said, "Some alumni, staff and a few students will always resent [Bell's] presence. Of that, I am sure. However, I also know that black people are fairly accepting. We want to cheer for the Asian guy singing country at the Apollo. We want to applaud the poorly dancing white guy at the party. Ultimately, if Bell can show the Delaware State/HBCU community that his vision is aligned with the school's and that his motives are honorable, eventually he will be accepted -- probably even give him a cool nickname."
Please do not misunderstand my point. I am strongly in favor of bringing more African-Americans, other people of color and women into top executive positions in college sports. The reality is that just 3.4 percent of all Division I athletics directors are black, while 95 percent are white. These figures exclude the HBCUs, where it is often assumed that all student-athletes and employees are African-American. Last year, 80 percent of the nearly 3,300 students enrolled at Delaware State were African-American, and 13 percent were white. That is almost exactly the national average for white students at HBCUs.