March 24, 2016

Jeter firing about more than just sports

By: Sen. Lena Taylor

It’s about more than just bouncing a ball.

It’s about more than just making a shot.

It’s about more than just winning a game.

UW-Milwaukee Panther basketball is about more than just sports. It’s about diversity, community and education, just to name a few.

That’s why, when UWM Athletic Director Amanda Braun fired head coach Rob Jeter last week, I couldn’t help but drop by her press conference. But, she didn’t want to hear what I had to say. At least, not in front of the reporters.

Ms. Braun wanted to talk about how she expected more on the court from Coach Jeter. As a former basketball player, she should know it’s not easy to put up a winning record in the NCAA. But Coach Jeter did that and more. In his 11 years as our head coach, he went 184-170. Under Jeter, we won two Horizon League tournament titles, two regular season titles and finished five seasons with 20 wins or more, including this one. That’s why I sent to Braun’s press conference, because I believe she had a hit out on Coach Jeter’s job for a long time. This is about more than just Coach Jeter.

It’s about diversity – Apparently, that kind of success is not good enough for Ms. Braun. As a Panther, a Milwaukeean and an elected official, I was frustrated by Jeter’s firing because not only was he a successful head coach, but he was the only senior athletic department employee of color. Diversity matters; especially in a city that makes up almost 70% of Wisconsin’s African American population. UWM’s website says that 33% of their incoming freshmen are students of color, but it’s my understanding their student athletes of color is only about half that. Exposure to a diverse background is a leading characteristic employers in our global economy are looking for. So what does it say that a major university in our community lacks diversity?

It’s about community – As the campus chair of the Milwaukee Partners in Giving United Way campaign, Coach Jeter helped raise over $100,000 for the 2015 campaign. It’s about more than just fundraising. We’ve got zip codes in Milwaukee where young men have a higher chance of going to prison than college. Coach Jeter’s work in the black community gives hope to these young men that there’s something better for them than a life of crime, and shows them they don’t have to be able to bounce a ball to make something of themselves.

It’s about education – How you react in the face of challenges tells a lot about a person. Several years ago, the UWM basketball team’s grades dropped and they were ineligible to make the NCAA tournament. Jeter and his team responded by turning things around in just two years, posting an impressive 20 wins and an even more impressive 3.1 GPA.

Apparently, none of these things mattered to Ms. Braun. What I believe she fails to see is what it means to be voted the most segregated city in America. We have the highest incarceration rate in the nation, lowest black-owned business rate and one of the highest black poverty rates in the nation. UW-Milwaukee is more than just a university in our city – it’s an institution of opportunity, agent of change and a symbol of hope.

I recently met with UW-Milwaukee’s chancellor about this issue and I hope to meet with the Athletic Director soon so that we may begin to improve community relations with the university.   

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