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Capital Gains For Richmond

Tamika Duck

By any measure, Tamika Duck, 25, is on the fast-track for a successful career in sports management. The former center and power forward on the women’s basketball team at Virginia Union University, from which she graduated in 2007, has just returned to her alma mater as first-in-command for sports information.

Duck had been working at a similar task at historically Black Virginia State University in Petersburg where she worked on a master’s in sports management before winning a job just up the road at VUU in Richmond. “It’s just a dream come true,” says Duck, who credits her sports-crazed father with advocating her career. “He just pushed on me,” she says.

Another man is behind her progress, too, Duck says. The late Arthur Robert Ashe Jr., Richmond, Va., born and raised, cleared away racial barriers in the 1950s and 1960s when he took up tennis at all- Black Brookfield park just a couple of miles from VUU in then strictly segregated Richmond. The famed tennis star braved racial insults in the Jim Crow city where he was allowed to play only Black kids in school matches and could not play on lighted city courts at night. To compete against White players, he had to drive north to Maryland.

Thanks to trailblazers such as Ashe, talented African-Americans such as Duck are having an easier time climbing the ladder of college sports management. In a sweet irony, it seems to be particularly true in Virginia, the so-called “mother of presidents,” where White leaders responded to court-ordered integration in the 1950s with their infamous “massive resistance” policy, blocking Whites and Blacks from going to school together.

“I think we have witnessed progress in the past decade or two, but there are challenges and we can turn those challenges into opportunities,” says Dr. Bernard Franklin, who is now the highest-ranking Black executive at the National College Athletic Association, the country’s foremost college sports organization. Franklin also happens to have strong ties to Virginia. His grandmother’s family is from Richmond, and he was president of VUU before joining the NCAA in 2002 to become an executive vice president.

Politics and Sports

Indeed, the list of Blacks with ties to the Old Dominion and its capital and who hold top sports management positions in the pros or at schools is impressive. For instance, Mike Tomlin, a former wide receiver for the College of William & Mary, is now head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Only the 10th Black coach in the NFL, he led the Steelers to Super Bowl victory this year, the second Black coach to take professional football’s highest prize.

At the University of Virginia, Craig Littlepage serves as athletics director. The former University of Pennsylvania college star and Wharton Business School graduate first started coaching at UVA in June 1976. “I was welcomed by coaches and student- athletes and families, but I was discouraged. The welcome was not as warm and fuzzy as I thought it would be,” he says. That changed in the early 1980s when Black superstar Ralph Sampson racked up massive wins for UVA Cavalier basketball and greatly expanded the school’s sports reputation across the nation, he notes.

Virginia Commonwealth University coach Anthony Grant holds the net aloft during a celebration of a 71-50 win over George Mason University in the Colonial Athletic Association men’s tournament championship NCAA college basketball game in Richmond, Va., on March 9, 2009.

Basketball coach Jeff Capel led Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University to a 60-31 record in three years before heading to the University of Oklahoma this spring. Also, Scott Secules, a Newport News native with NFL experience with the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots, is VCU’s senior associate athletic director for external affairs. “We at VCU are committed to a broad student body and also to identifying those people best able to work in our department and in coaching,” he says. Such acceptance has come in fits and starts. It has taken decades, if not gener a t i o n s . “You have to remember that at the University of Virginia, when I talk to the parents and grandparents of Black players, they remember that this is a school that they could not attend,” says Littlepage.

Latent racism even lingers into more recent times. In the 1990s, municipal officials in the state capital of Richmond only grudgingly allowed a statue to be erected commemorating Ashe, despite the fact that he is the city’s most famous athlete. Ashe’s memorial, whose inscription begs tolerance, is on Monument Avenue, a wide, cobblestone boulevard notable for its grand statues of Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Black residents balked at the monument’s location, saying it would be better to honor Ashe in his home neighborhood on the north side of Richmond where he was welcome. The Monument Avenue statue was eventually unveiled in 1996.

Yet major change was underway that would permanently alter race relations. In 1990, Virginia elected lawyer and civil rights activist Douglas Wilder as its first Black governor. While holding a tight rein on spending, Wilder stamped out other vestiges of racism, such as forbidding the Virginia Air National Guard from displaying the Confederate flag on its jet fighter planes.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin speaks during a news conference before NFL football Super Bowl XLIII on Jan. 30, 2009, in Tampa, Fla. A former wide receiver for the College of William & Mary (Va.), Tomlin led the Steelers to Super Bowl victory this year, the second Black coach to take professional football’s highest prize.

Wilder was elected mayor of Richmond in 2005, which set the stage for a succession of Blacks to rise into top positions of power, including chief of police and mayor after Wilder retired in 2009. The political ascendancy of Blacks in Richmond and Virginia has worked in tandem with a rise in sports management. According to Jon Entine, the author of a book about African-American athletes and a former NBC News documentary producer, the rise of Blacks in sports management “tracks their full integration into society in general with the exclamation point being the election of Barack Obama.”

Great Expectations

To be sure, there is still much work to be done. Nationally, Blacks tend to dominate playing, although not coaching, basketball, just as they once dominated baseball. Move to other sports, especially football, and their impact in management diminishes.

“I think there has been considerably more progress at the professional level, but not in college. Some 95 percent of all athletic directors are Whites in (NCAA) Divisions I, II and III,” says Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of the DeVos Sport Business Management program at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, which he directs, published a report in February that gave college sports only a C+ on race and a B for gender participation.

Yet Lapchick praises Virginia schools, especially VCU and UVA for “their good record.” “UVA has been a real pioneer, and Craig (Littlepage) has done a great job,” Lapchick says.

At VSU, Duck has a lot to live up to, especially considering the legacy of Reginald Lewis, the former VSU quarterback turned lawyer, venture capitalist and owner of Beatrice International Foods. She has studied at a new master’s degree program at VSU that Reed notes was started specifically to get Blacks into higher levels of sports administration.

For Duck, it’s also a family affair. Her father coached high school basketball at her hometown in Pennsylvania. “My little sister is All-American at Western Kentucky. My brother plays basketball at the University of the Virgin Islands. My older sister is sports information director at the University of Pittsburgh,” she says. The Pittsburgh native says she likes Virginia just fine. “But I still am a Steelers fan and sure like to watch Mike Tomlin.”

Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, left, accepts a game ball from University of Richmond football coach Mike London, center, as Sen. Henry L. Marsh, III, D-Richmond, right, looks on after London received a commending resolution from the Virginia Senate in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 19, 2009. The U of R Spiders won the NCAA Division I national championship in December of 2008.

Ashe’s legacy isn’t simply brilliance on the tennis court, but his entire life philosophy. “One of the things I remember about Arthur Ashe,” Littlepage says, “is that he emphasized the priority of education. He had his scholarly pursuits like writing, while he was so competitive on the court and away. He believed in being a true athlete and conducted himself as a gentleman. Playing fairly was extremely important to him. He had old school values.”

The Richmond Connection: 1) Mike London: In his first year at his alma mater the University of Richmond, London, the university’s first Black football head coach, guided the Spiders to the 2008 NCAA Division I (Football Championship Subdivision ) National title. Prior to going to Richmond, London served as defensive coordinator at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. 2) LaRee Pearl Sugg: An assistant athletic director at the University of Richmond and a Petersburg, Va., native, Sugg was the last Black woman to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. Her grandfather, Dr. James C. Nelson, a professor and golf coach at Virginia State introduced her to golf. 3) Mike Tomlin: At 36, as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tomlin, Virginia native and College of William and Mary alumnus, became the youngest person ever to lead an National Football League team to a Super Bowl victory. 4) DeTrease Harrison: Harrison is currently an assistant athletic director at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. 5) Tamika Duck: Duck is the sports information director at her alma mater, Virginia Union University, in Richmond. 6) Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant: These former men’s basketball head coaches at Virginia Commonwealth University used that position to springboard into head coaching jobs respectively at the University of Oklahoma and University of Alabama. 7) Craig Littlepage: Littlepage is the first Black athletics director in Atlantic Coast Conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. 8) Dr. Bernard Franklin: Formerly president of Virginia Union University, Franklin is the most senior Black administrator at the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

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