Many of my earliest childhood memories involve the game of football. It has been the profession of my father, Ed Lambert, for my entire life. We often joke about the countless number of games endured or the many football stadiums visited over the years. His 12 different jobs in as many states certainly kept our family on the move. Imagine a little black girl from the San Francisco Bay Area being transplanted to places like Ames, Iowa, or Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Waco, Texas in the mid- to late-1980s.
Navigating those spaces and places was certainly a different world for my then 10-year old self, long before “diversity” was ever a topic deemed worthy enough of discussion. Little did I know that my father’s career path in football would ultimately become a training ground for me on lessons on both race and gender. But that’s what happened.
Race relations in sports has long been a complicated history, particularly in football. There was always some sort of struggle to overcome. First it was just allowing black players the ability to participate in many major conferences in the 1960s. Then it became the struggle for equality in the hiring practices of coaching staffs in the 1980s, a fight that is still a point of contention to this day. While most teams often comprise a large percentage of black players, the coaching staffs and athletic departments of many NCAA schools often struggle with diversity.
Today’s game is seen as being rigged, with fewer than 8 percent of top head coaches in the biggest football programs
being black. Of the 128 schools that comprise the Football Bowl Subdivision, only 10 schools have black head coaches. Let’s be real. These numbers are predictable because the entire decision-making apparatus is dominated by white men. Let’s start at the top: The NCAA has never had anyone but a white man as president. Of the Power Five conferences, none has ever had anyone but a white man as commissioner.
My father was a charter member of the now-defunct Black Coaches Association, an organization that was at the forefront of the fight to create more opportunities for black coaches at a time when colleges and universities were slamming doors in faces of minority coaching candidates. In 1988, amidst community pressure, my father was hired as the first black assistant coach at Baylor University. We had no idea what we were stepping into as a family.
Prior to his hiring, the Baylor football program was criticized by some members of the local black community, culminating in a letter-writing campaign to recruits that claimed the Baylor program was racist in its hiring practices. At the time, the historical significance of that hiring was certainly lost on me, but looking back I now understand its weight. My father played a big part in pushing things forward for many black coaches in football, but nearly 30 years later, the issue of diversity in hiring practices in the NCAA and the NFL is still a major issue. You think diversity just happens on its own? Think again. It’s implemented by design.