Evening the Score: How the McLendon Foundation and Prolink Support Minority Representation in Sports

Evening the Score: How the McLendon Foundation and Prolink Support Minority Representation in Sports

February 27, 2024

2020 was a year of sweeping change in all facets of American life. To say nothing of the public health crisis, mass isolation, and economic turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the death of George Floyd and the resulting public upheaval sparked a mass reevaluation of systems of power and racial privilege. High-profile organizations and public figures directed their platforms and their dollars toward causes focused on eliminating barriers and creating opportunities for people of color.

The McLendon Foundation, founded in 1999 by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), was one of the organizations that received well-deserved recognition and investment in 2020 as a result of its decades of work increasing diversity and representation in the sports industry. Named for John McLendon, Jr., the first African American professional head basketball coach and a civil rights pioneer in the sport, the Foundation works to build a more equitable future in athletics by honoring McLendon's legacy of innovation, equality, and access.

From 2000 onward, the McLendon Foundation has awarded eight scholarships per year to deserving young students of color—called McLendon Scholars—to pursue advanced degrees in the sports ecosystem. In 2020, University of Kentucky Men's Head Basketball Coach John Calipari and Harvard Head Men's Basketball Coach Tommy Amaker saw an opportunity to help the Foundation change even more lives. As a result, the Minority Leadership Initiative (MLI) began that same year with the goal of creating access and opportunities for diverse talent through job placement programs. 

The MLI program's processes and procedures are a result of the collaboration between Prolink's Diversity and Inclusion Manager Brynn Robinson and Adrien Harraway, NACDA Senior Vice President and Director of the McLendon Foundation. With support from Prolink, MLI has placed over 170 young people of color, called McLendon Fellows, to date. During their placement, Fellows gain firsthand experience in real-world organizations and build their networking, leadership, and decision-making skills.

"Prolink's partnership with the Leadership Initiative has been instrumental in advancing the McLendon Foundation's mission," Harraway said. "Their support has helped impact more aspiring leaders as they begin their career in the sports industry."

Harraway's confidence in the groundwork laid for the program is backed up by its rapid growth—in fact, the number of Fellows placed per year has nearly doubled, from 29 in its inaugural 2020 class to 50 per year since 2022. The results speak for themselves: 94% of MLI Fellows secured jobs six months after their placement term. MLI's track record of success not only speaks to the talent and work ethic of its Fellows, but also the dedication of the Prolink recruiters tasked with helping them begin their careers.

"Working on the MLI project has been life-changing for me," said one Prolink Recruiting Coordinator. "Being able to help assist the future Fellows and jump-start their careers in athletics has been truly amazing. Some would never have this opportunity if not for the McLendon Foundation."

Nonetheless, there are always more barriers to be broken and opportunities to be created for people of color. According to a 2022 study, nearly 80% of Collegiate Athletic Directors and Associate Athletic Directors at Division I, Division II, and Division III programs are white. By comparison, just 7.6% of Division I Athletic Directors are Black. There is a long road ahead to achieve true equity and inclusion in the athletics space. Even still, McLendon and Prolink, thanks to the tireless work of their beneficiaries, employees, Scholars, and Fellows, are dedicated to continuing the fight.

To learn more about the McLendon Foundation and the Minority Leadership Initiative, visit www.minorityleaders.org.

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