As progressive as it is, WNBA needs more diversity among coaches

Earlier this month, the Dallas Wings hired Vickie Johnson as their new coach, making her the only active Black female head coach in the WNBA. | Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Earlier this month, the Dallas Wings hired Vickie Johnson as their new coach, making her the only active Black female head coach in the WNBA. Earlier this month, the Dallas Wings hired Vickie Johnson as their new coach, making her the only active Black female head coach in the WNBA.
That’s not lost on her.
“I have been where these players are trying to go,” Johnson said in her introductory news conference last week. “It’s very important for me as a Black woman to be a role model for the Black athletes in our league, but also for the white athletes as well — for all players.”
The WNBA has long been the leader among professional sports leagues in terms of diverse hiring practices. Since its first season in 1997, it has held the top spot on the Racial and Gender Report Card issued by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
Still, there’s work to be done.
Although more than 80% of WNBA players are Black, there’s a glaring lack of diversity on the coaching staffs. Only five of the 12 WNBA teams have women as their head coaches — four of whom are white and only two of whom are former WNBA players (Johnson and the Phoenix Mercury’s Sandy Brondello).
There are two Black men — the Chicago Sky’s James Wade and the Los Angeles Sparks’ Derek Fisher — among seven male head coaches.
The WNBA is home to the top female basketball players in the world, but very few have gone into coaching after their playing careers. Last season, there were only three former players serving as assistants.
“We’ve really got to work on that,” Sky guard Kahleah Copper said. “That’s something that should change. I know we’ve had a few in the past, but we want to get some coaches to stick, to really be around, and really be an inspiration.”
Copper, who accepted an assistant coaching role at Purdue Northwest last month, said creating a pipeline for current and former players is essential to building up a pool of diverse candidates for coaching and front-office positions.
The WNBA does fund an internship program for current players to start looking into careers after basketball. Copper took advantage of it after last season, working for the Philadelphia Police Department.
“The WNBA internship is more broad — it’s, like, whatever you choose to do,” Copper said. “But I think [there should be something] more direct as far as ‘This is for players who want to transition into coaches.’ ”
Former Sky assistant coach Bridget Pettis, who stepped away from the WNBA last summer after almost two decades to focus on her nonprofit organization, Project Roots, suggested starting a basketball leadership program for retired players.
“It’s the wise thing to do to bring the women that have created this game and played this game and know this game to be a part of the game in every stage of it — ownership, managing, coaching — all of it,” Pettis said. “This game, the WNBA, should be sealed with WNBA players. . . . I know it’s going to happen.”

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