Sport, Coaching, & Leadership

by Rees Wilson

Heart broken, but not surprised. Angry, but not defeated. Disappointed, yet still encouraged. This is how I felt when hearing about Coach McDermott’s post game speech and reading his “I’m sorry” tweet. Inside I scream “SORRY IS NOT ENOUGH.”  Sorry does not even being to touch the surface of what those young kings need to hear from their coach after the biggest foul was committed. In fact, it was a flagrant foul against the souls that bare the work of moving that program forward. The foul was committed against the heart of the team, the players but more specifically the Black players. Players who look to their coach after a loss for guidance and constructive criticism; not dehumanizing anti-black sentiments. The word Coach is synonymous with leader, mentor, teacher, parental figure, and friend. A role that requires and demands trust of its players. Hearing about McDermott, I thought of all that trust was immediately shattered and may never be fully recovered. My heart hurts because again, a white coach “slipped up” and said what he was really thinking and now he is sorry for what he said.

However, it is not merely what he said, but what he believes on the inside that led him to saying what he said. Watch your thoughts, for they become your words and your words become your behavior. Our words are a reflection of our thoughts and beliefs. When I first heard the news about McDermott, I thought to myself: So, you are telling me that every day while you are operating in the most precious positions of leadership and mentorship, you do not see your players as mentees and the young kings that they are, you see them as slaves, and you are the master and your team/school as a plantation? “I can’t have anybody leave the plantation.” This is the most disgusting part of the whole thing. This is what hurts so bad, that in a single moment he diminished his players’ identity, purpose and humanity, back down to property. Where over 400 years ago, that very statement would not have been a plea to their ancestors, but a death sentence. All because of a loss. “I need everybody to stay on the plantation.” Was that supposed to motivate them to stay? These kings are their ancestors’ wildest dreams, does he now know that? Does he not know they stand on the shoulders of those who fought for them to have the freedom to go to school and play a game they love?  Why is the word plantation used to describe one’s team in the first place? Who even uses this word when not speaking about the horrendous act of slavery? How does this even show up in a post-game speech? How does that even seem like encouraging phrase to stay to get your players to “buy-in?” I cannot fathom it. And trust me, I have lost plenty of games, so I know post-game frustration very well. The feelings of anger, rage, frustration towards losing a game, does not compare to the angry rage and frustration towards being discriminated against, oppressed and perceived as less than I am because I am a Black woman.

My call to action is to call coach McDermott in, because the reality is we know he is not going anywhere. He will keep coaching and leading other Black kings. But it is not our job as Black people to educate him. Though, he needs more than just academic level education on why what he said is wrong. He needs an encounter with authentic transformational self-leadership and intentional healing. This process will allow him to explore the root of his comments, his actions and the consequences of them. It will allow him to discover the why behind them, and simultaneously do the work to unlearn and heal from the trauma stored deep within him and the trauma he caused. It will provide him the opportunity to discover where they came from so he can address them head on and tell them they have no place within his leadership and coaching style; if he is truly sorry and about that anti-racist life. Doing this will enable him to be able speak freely in any situation and know he will not say anything racially insensitive because it no longer resides within him. 

My call to accountability is not to hold him or any other coach to standards of perfection. I believe we all make mistakes, especially when we are angry. Which is why he needs to be called in and held accountability. It is not the pursuit of perfection that will keep him or any other coach from making this mistake, but the pursuit of intentionality. When we are intentional about how we think, speak and live it allows us to live in true authenticity. I encourage us all to hold the proverb “Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger” close to our hearts, as we continue to call each other in, create healing spaces, and do the work to dismantle not only systematic oppressive systems but also leadership styles and coaching methods that uphold them. I pray for strength, love and healing for the young kings who were impacted by the words that I can only imagine cut skin deep. I pray for peace for their families, who entrusted Coach McDermott to protect, respect and raise up their young kings. I also pray for strength and a repairing energy for the team, as they continue to finish out what already has been a season for the books.

Coach Rees, Ed.D. Candidate, is a dynamic, authentic, passionate individual. One who is committed to serving her purpose. During her waking hours, she serves as a retention manager in the EDI CARES department and College Success professor at Pierce College, leads others in personal development and money mindfulness through intentional coaching through her coaching academy You-ISH, as well as being a real estate investor and teacher. As a former head college coach and retired professional hooper, Coach Rees is passionate about dismantling the suppressive systems that continually oppress Black student athletes. Her mission is to create healing spaces for student athletes and coaches.

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