Texas A&M Assistant Sports Management Professor Akilah Carter-Francique facilitates Sista To Sista, a monthly leadership program for Black female athletes. University of New Mexico doctorial student Sonja Robinson is studying how certain on-court positions in basketball essentially are used as training ground for future leaders.
Both women believe, however, that few Blacks and other women of color are being groomed for — or even being steered toward — leadership roles in sport.
Carter-Francique’s program is designed through workshops and other activities to enhance personal and professional growth, promote holistic development and encourage lifelong learning. Black female athletes don’t often get opportunities “to really extend themselves outside of athletics,” says the professor.
Robinson, a former University of Minnesota basketball player in the late 1990s, has found that “stacking” too often occurs in women’s college basketball. “Stacking is when certain races are put in certain positions,” she explains.
This practice existed for years in football; the quarterback and middle linebacker — “the thinking positions” — usually were reserved for Whites.
“We know that in basketball it’s the point guard,” notes Robinson on what many view as “the coach on the floor.”
“The point guard carries a pretty heavy weight as far as leadership and how much responsibility the coach expects them to have on the floor,” she continues. Her thesis therefore, asks are Black female point guards being put in similar positions to be seen as future coaches as their White counterparts are.
This idea first came to mind while she was studying for her master’s in organizational behavior, Robinson says. “You have the formal leadership in the coaching staff, but there is the informal leadership that evolves in the team as well,” she recalls. “So I wondered who is it that gets that position most often, and how is that developed.
“We’re saying that coaches are mostly point guards,” surmises Robinson. “If we are saying that these [former] point guards are mostly White, then the access to the coaching staff is not being equitable.”
With the low number of Black head coaches at the collegiate level, especially Black females, “There is a definite path that we can see [Blacks] being left out [of],” says Robinson.
Researchers have shown that females are underrepresented in all leadership-type positions in sport. The latest NCAA data also points out that it is even more so among Blacks and other women of color.
Carter-Francique cites one reason is that no one seemingly is advising them on these careers. “Women are far and few between” in her field, she notes. “You get an even smaller number of African American women in sports management and sport studies.”
It’s the same for Blacks in such areas as sport research, adds Robinson.
“We see a lot of research on Black players…but there is not that many of us [doing the research].” She plans to complete her studies hopefully by next summer, and Robinson admits that her love for research is something she may continue after she adds the “Dr.” title next to her name.
“If I can help fill that void in some way, this is something I like to do,” Robinson says.
Carter-Francique counts on one hand the number of Black females who presently serve as her mentors in her field. “It essentially was that small group of women that paved the way for [me],” she proudly points out.
“If it wasn’t for Dr. Carter-Francique, I wouldn’t have known anything about these conferences,” admits Texas A&M second-year doctorial student Tiffany Hooks. Hooks recently accompanied the professor to an international sport studies conference held at the University of Minnesota in early November, where Carter-Francique was scheduled as a presenter.
“There are other Black women [in her program] but their advisors are typically White males,” Hooks points out, “so [the advisors] don’t see [these conferences] as very important.” Although Carter-Francique isn’t her official advisor, “She keeps me in the loop and lets me know what things out there that I should be involved in,” says the student.
“This particular generation needs to see somebody in this position to know that it can be attainable,” concludes the Texas A&M professor.