The most striking note was the silence.
When Wake Forest hired Daniel Ricardo Manning a month ago as its 22nd men’s basketball coach, he became the most accomplished former player ever to direct an ACC program.
Manning’s youth in Greensboro, where as a junior he led the 1983 Page High School team to a state championship, was noted. The story was retold of his unexpected move to Lawrence, Kansas, for his senior high school season, part of a package deal with his father, Ed, who became a Jayhawks assistant coach under Larry Brown.
Folks recalled Manning’s playing career at KU, including winning 1988 national player of the year honors and an NCAA title as leader of “Danny and the Miracles.”
Then came an impressive 15-year NBA tenure after being the top pick in ’88 by the L.A. Clippers; nine seasons as a Kansas assistant under Bill Self; and, most recently, a successful two-year stint running the Tulsa program. Olympic performer in the latter eighties. Wife and two kids. Tallest ACC coach ever at 6-10.
In short, plenty of details were shared even before Manning was introduced at a Winston-Salem press conference, his coaching philosophy and vision breathing new life into the flat-lined Deacons.
But one thing that eluded notice, or at least mention, was a characteristic that in another day and time, and not that long ago, would have led the coverage. Danny Manning is the first African-American to coach the Wake Forest basketball program, the second ever to direct one of North Carolina’s ACC teams (after N.C. State’s Sidney Lowe from 2007-11), and with Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton the second black man currently roaming an ACC basketball sideline.
The lack of mention, particularly in light of recent discussions spurred by racist comments by foodie Paula Deen, Nevada rancher and range vigilante Cliven Bundy, and longtime Clippers owner Donald Sterling, led one to wonder: Was the failure to cite Manning’s race a denial of a historic fact or recognition of sport’s changed circumstances? Did it signify a step beyond fraught awareness of difference, or a step away from necessary consciousness?
“I would like to think that it is progress,” said Virginia’s Craig Littlepage, one of three African-American athletic directors in the ACC along with FSU’s Stan Wilcox and Syracuse’s Daryl Gross. “I truly believe that. And certainly progress doesn’t mean the race is over – pun intended.”
‘Getting past it’
Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida University, agreed that, in Manning’s case, silence was golden. “The fact that Wake Forest hired a coach who is African American and race never was mentioned is a sign of progress based on a long history of successful and outspoken African-American head coaches,” Lapchick said. “Until recently nearly 25 percent of all DI head coaches were African American. We hardly noticed when an African American was hired or fired. The lack of African-American head coaches in football created the opposite (effect).”
Manning, informed through a spokesperson of the topic of this column, chose not to comment.
One of those pioneering, outspoken African-American coaches is Paul Hewitt, a former president of the Black Coaches and Administrators (BCA), an advocacy group. Hewitt, now at George Mason University, coached at Georgia Tech from 2001 through 2011 and was the ACC’s third black coach after Maryland’s Bob Wade (1987-89) and FSU’s Steve Robinson (1998-2002). At one point during Hewitt’s tenure, seven of the ACC’s dozen head coaches were African American, a notable departure for a conference still based predominantly in the South.
“Do I think we’ve gotten past racism in college athletics?” Hewitt asked rhetorically. “I think we’re getting past it, we’re definitely getting past it. But there are going to be reminders like what we had with Donald Sterling. There will be things that will make you wonder why did this happen, it doesn’t seem equitable. But if you step back and take the big-picture view, you have to say we’re getting past it. It’s moving in that direction.”
Hewitt worries that the rise of search firms in college athletic recruitment has led to a decline in hiring minorities. He called it the “shadow side” of the trend toward greater diversity. But, according to the most recent College Racial and Gender Report Card issued by Lapchick’s institute, after a slight dip, the rate of hiring African-American basketball coaches returned to the 25 percent level, the modern norm.
The real power
Hiring is far less inclusive the higher one rises in the university athletic food chain, according to a report on FBS schools during the 2012-13 academic year by Lapchick’s institute. “The fact is that 90 percent of our presidents are white, 87.5 percent of our athletics directors are white, and 100 percent of our conference commissioners are white,” said the study released in November 2012. “In those positions, 76, 84.2, and 100 percent are white men, respectively. Overall, whites hold 332 (90.7 percent) of the 366 campus leadership positions reported in this study, which is no change in quantity from last year…The stagnant nature of diversity in campus leadership does not reflect the America that we know.”
Littlepage sees a more positive outlook for diversity in administrative positions, where real power lies. “I would say that there are more aspiring ethnic minorities, not just African Americans minorities, but women as well that are ascending through the ranks to more senior positions,” said the AD, who took over at UVa in August 2001. “I think, particularly in an academic setting, we do understand diversity because we live that experience every day. I think sports is one of the areas that most visibly demonstrates how diverse groups of people can achieve at very high levels.”
Hewitt pointed approvingly to the U.S. military’s embrace of diversity – a current YouTube video touting the Air Force spends three wordless minutes simply showing different faces in different settings, civilian and military, to make the point. “It’s just not about putting people of color in there just to say we got one,” he said of broadened participation in athletics. “We’re not filling a fish tank here, putting a bunch of pretty colors of fish in there. It’s about putting a lot of different ideas and perspectives in there so you can see potential dangers coming down the road, or see potential problems coming down the road.”
Problems like having the Donald Sterlings of the world in leadership positions. The swift, near-universal reaction to his bigoted remarks was not only heartening, but reflected an evolution that more sharply defines acceptable conduct. “I would say it is fundamental civility that’s in play, and things that grew out of the civil rights movement in terms of people being created equal. Looking at each other as brothers and sisters,” Littlepage said.
Nor is it only Sterling who must learn to change his thinking, according to Hewitt. “There’s some things that I said in the seventies and early eighties that I can’t say now, but I’ve learned how to get those out of my dialogue, get that out of my head. Because you just can’t say it. It’s unacceptable, it shouldn’t be acceptable. We’ve got to evolve.”
That means knowing when and how to effectively express outrage, and when to bask in appropriate silence.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less