Staley Received What She Deserves

Dawn Staley

 📸 credit: “Dawn Staley Day at the Hank Gathers Recreation Center 12-21-2017” by PHL Council.

Seven years, $22.4 million.

Without knowing the context of the figure, the numbers are jaw dropping.

Now add the name Dawn Staley, head women’s basketball coach at the University of South Carolina, to the equation and you’ll understand why the figure, her contract extension, is monumental. And let’s get right into it. It’s not even really about the money. It’s about her gender. And on top of that, it’s about her race.

A Black woman, in collegiate athletics, being offered a deal of this magnitude is rare. A Black woman, in collegiate athletics, securing a deal of this magnitude is rare. A Black woman, in collegiate athletics, having her worth recognized, honored and respected by institutions that have long overlooked, underpaid and ostracized us, our being and our existence is rare. Ya’ll, this doesn’t happen for us often. Not in these spaces. Not even in these times of righting wrongs. However, if there was ever a viable candidate to be on the receiving end of “being given her just due,” Staley embodies the mode.

Her resume speaks for itself. Let me break it down for you.

In high school, Staley was the national player of the year during her senior year. At the University of Virginia, she led her team to the NCAA tournament four years, the Final Four three years and one NCAA championship game. Named ACC and national player of the year, twice, her number 24 is retired at UVA.

Before becoming the coach at South Carolina, she led the women’s program at Temple University where her team’s record improved every year of her regimen. The fastest coach to reach 100 wins in women’s basketball, Staley played in the WNBA for six years while coaching at the Philadelphia institution. 

Since her arrival at South Carolina, the team has solidified itself as one of the top programs in the country. In 2017, Staley won her first national championship, becoming only the second Black woman to do so. Last year, she was named Naismith College Coach of the Year. Staley is the only person to have been presented with the Naismith Award as a player and coach.

Oh, and she’s a four-time Olympic gold medalist, a member of the Women’s and Naismith Memorial Basketball Halls of Fame and is the head coach of the US Women’s National Team that captured a gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Yet, here I am, shocked because she got paid what she’s worth. 

It says a lot about where we are as a country.

Let’s talk about that, too.

John Calipari, men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, has coached for 29 years. He’s won one national championship. He makes $8 million a year. Chris Beard, men’s basketball coach at the University of Texas, has a salary of nearly $5 million a year. He hasn’t won a national championship. He hasn’t even been to the Final Four. Fred Hoiberg, head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Nebraska (traditionally a football school), takes home almost $4 million per annum. Since arriving at the school two years ago, his teams have gone 7-25 and 7-20.

Whew. The money that is flowing through men’s basketball, for programs that aren’t national championship contenders, is jarring but not surprising. 

Women’s sports have long been treated like the annoying, little sibling. They get the hand-me-downs, aren’t always acknowledged for their accomplishments like the older sibling and are looked down on, often by men, from their throne of hierarchy.

While these facts have always cast a glaring shadow over their equals, Staley’s win, in my opinion, is one poised to open many doors due to her race and gender. 

I’ve been a fan of the UVA graduate since she was breaking ankles in the ACC. Albeit young and not really in tune with what I was witnessing, I can recall watching Staley play in the ACC Tournament and occasionally on TV. She was quick, a floor general and had swag before it was called swag. She was a baller!

I kept up with her career overseas and in the NBA. When she was named coach at Temple, I kept up with her there as well. At the time, the late John Cheney was still leading the men’s program. A Black woman and man coaching at a university with the prestige of Temple was a moment that made me proud.

When Staley decided to take the job at South Carolina, I was shocked. The program’s history was pretty much a blurb and the history of the school itself was not favorable for those who had melanin radiating from their skin. But I was a Dawn Staley “stan” so I wanted to see her do well.

With her same determination for teaching the game of basketball on the court and being a role model as a result of it, Staley went down South and did what she always does: blaze a trail. She’s never been one to shy away from speaking up, speaking out and speaking on topics that many won’t touch for fear of rocking the boat. Since her days at UVA, I’ve always admired Staley’s conviction, boldness and steadfastness in moving things forward.

Plus, she’s cool. Like Snoop Dogg cool. Like I want to hang out with her one day cool because her energy radiates fun, good vibes and wisdom.

Everything I’ve said about her is a combination of why I believe South Carolina did what was right and stepped up to the plate. They saw what they have in Dawn Staley is priceless. There aren’t many like her right now, in the coaching ranks, because they haven’t been granted the opportunity. 

But many who are watching will look at Staley and know that you don’t have to compromise self or beliefs to arrive at a place where you’re unwilling to sacrifice your integrity for anyone or anything. 

And to me, that might be the biggest lesson to come from all of this.

Because that’s how you sleep well at night.

Kassaundra Shanette Lockhart is a freelance writer.

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