Q&A With Gail Dent, the NCAA’s Associate Director of Communications

What are your responsibilities as associate director of communications-external engagement at the NCAA?

I work regularly on communications initiatives with the NCAA’s Inclusion Education and Community Engagement Office, which houses our inclusion efforts; student-athlete, coach and administrator programs; and another area that will take more shape soon: community engagement. I work with the senior vice president and his staff on various efforts that bridge the NCAA with its membership and other publics as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. I also answer media inquiries from national press and assist with operations of the postgraduate internship program in our division.

Gail DentGail Dent

What are the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 that you foresee for the NCAA and its member institutions?

Unfortunately, there were some staff reductions and budget cuts that took place throughout COVID. We hope that we’ll start to see some jobs restored and that budgets will rebound. I believe student-athletes became more vocal during COVID with the rising social justice issues and other topics around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) too. I think in the long term, we’ll see more online programs since we know we can be successful implementing them in that way.

With the anniversary of the George Floyd murder just having passed and the recent guilty verdict of that related trial, how will the fallout from all of this the past year impact athletes moving forward?

I think moving forward, athletes will become more vocal about what they want and how to make it happen. Social media continues to be the platform for voices and for pushing change on matters. I think the George Floyd murder shocked everyone because it was taped. Things along those lines have happened over the years to people, but the masses never saw it. You’re seeing more attention to social issues in college athletics with the creation of the athletics diversity and inclusion designation, more chief diversity officers in athletics being named, and a rise in having actual discussions about the importance and benefits of diversity and inclusion. The NCAA has held its annual Inclusion Forum for several years so we have been ahead of recent movements and discussions.

How does diversity come into play in your role?

The area of DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) has become much more visible in the last 12-18 months and has opened a platform for NCAA and organizations to talk about principles, to push inclusion and focus on what is right to do and where we need to be to implement it. I meet with our SVP for Inclusion, Education & Community Engagement monthly to keep engaged on upcoming visits and partnerships and to talk about message strategy on different issues. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on strategic planning, communications and some operations around DEI issues and events, which is impactful.

What do you still see as the biggest challenge for women in athletics?

I think we’re still fighting closed mindsets in terms of having opportunities to lead at executive levels and with other senior roles. We’ve seen some progress at the athletics director and conference commissioner positions, but I’m still confused on why the numbers are so poor at those senior levels and in other athletics management roles when there are qualified and capable women ready to lead. The NCAA has resources for finding key individuals with its programming and we have a new initiative to locate qualified minorities called the Leadership Collective.

It boils down to departmental decisions and who is making them. Are they keeping diversity and inclusion in mind? I think there is also a closed mindset with allowing women to be involved with the management of men’s sports, which get visibility. That needs to change.  In terms of women’s sports, we still hear that women’s sports can’t grow and that they aren’t as marketable. If we’re seeing some of the most creative and innovative marketing tactics and measures being developed for products, we can certainly get minds like that to the table to figure out how to grow women’s sports, along with continuing to grow the men’s sports.

What’s your favorite entrée and side dish at a summer cookout?

If I can go outside the box, I like grilled scallops and shrimp or Fourth of July-type BBQ and seasoned baked beans or a sweet coleslaw salad dish as the side.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

I love shopping, but in terms of edibles … Albanese gummy bears. I went to their factory store and one of the sales people   jokingly asked me if I wanted to purchase stock in the company too due to all I had in my bag. LOL!

This article originally appeared in the June 24, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.