Marisa Moseley, incoming head coach for the University of Wisconsin’s women’s basketball team, has her job cut out for her. She is starting a new task in the Big Ten, stepping into the spotlight among a growing number of girls in sports leadership places, and doing everything while browsing among the most challenging years on record. “You’re managing your players’ wellbeing, both physically and mentally, through a pandemic and social unrest; you wish to get involved and continue to attempt to change the world; and it’s like,’Oh, and I also need to sleep,”’ she says.
At 39, Moseley is the youngest Black woman serving as a head coach in the Big Ten. It’s one of the biggest conferences in college sports (generating over $700 million in revenue) where the gender gap in leadership positions is glaring: only three percent of the most lucrative head coaching jobs for collegiate men’s teams go to women and only 40 percent of women’s collegiate sports teams are coached by women. But Moseley isn’t one to get distracted by the stats. “Whether I am the youngest, the oldest, the initial, or the 31st, I just want to be really excellent in whatever I’m doing,” she says.
What she is focused on is changing the way the world views women’s sports.
“We tend to go with what we understand, but it can not only be where you’re only going after the small women,” she says. “Where change is going to occur is if there are young boys that are wearing women’s jerseys–when they see women in power and women who are strong, that’s going to change the way they see women growing up”
As the head coach for Boston University’s women’s basketball team and an assistant coach at the University of Connecticut, Moseley has seen the power of the community that rallies around female athletes–a direct contradiction to the narrative that women’s sports just don’t draw viewers. “If you think about when men’s [professional] sports began vs. women’s sports, it’s like in the event you have a head start, of course your earnings stability will be different, of course you’re going to have a stronger base,” she says. “It’s almost unfair to say,’Well, you guys just don’t generate us money.’ All these systems of oppression are set in place for a long time to create this exactly what it is. But I think what is happening today is a re-imagining of that system”
As Moseley prepares to take her new role, women’s basketball is having a moment. Amid racial justice protests last summer, the women of the WNBA emerged as leaders, demonstrating the power of athletes as activists (and even helping to influence an election). And in March, tweets about the damning inequalities between women’s and men’s athlete accommodations at the NCAA March Madness tournament sparked collective outrage. Moseley “applauds” the tradition of athletes speaking out for change and sees the sport as a powerful “equalizer.” “Everyone can perform with it, regardless of your socioeconomic history, your racial background. What I love, especially at the collegiate level, is you are able to bring folks from many different walks of life into one group,” she says,”not just with diversity of race, but diversity of thought, diversity of experience.”
She knows how much her voice matters in this moment, too. “I believe one of the greatest things that came from 2020 when we were at home, was that you had to face it–you could not turn a blind eye [on gender inequalities and racial inequalities]. Coach Auriemma [at UConn] always utilized to say there is two reasons why folks do not do something: it’s because they do not know, or they don’t feel like it since it does not impact them,” Moseley says. “I’m an educator first, that’s my duty. Being the only Black coach in the department, I must carry the torch to some extent. But at the exact same time, I’m not the savior.”
Moseley is particularly excited about the strategic plan for diversity and inclusion at Wisconsin. “To mepersonally, it is like, all right if you are gonna put your money where your mouth is, and you’re going to be inclined to not just have tough conversations, but actually enact change, then hell , I’m all for it. Let us get to work,” she says. “Because the fact is, yes, I’m a basketball trainer and my job ultimately is to win games, but when I’m not impacting these young women’s lives, if we are not providing a space where they can grow and learn and be permitted, then we’re not doing it correctly. Losing and winning is just part of what we’re attempting to achieve here.”