By Jordyn Perry
Black head coaches in college football are extremely hard to come by. Rarely do
university officials select a Black man to head their teams, even though almost 60% of college football players are Black. Even more rarely do universities choose a Black man with zero National Football League (NFL) playing or coaching experience. Of the 130 Division 1 Football Subdivision (FBS) NCAA teams, there are only fourteen Black head coaches. And of those fourteen, the vast majority have NFL playing or coaching experience. In the Power 5
conferences, the top divisions in the NCAA, only ten of the head football coaches are Black. There are five Black head coaches in the Pac 12, four in the Big 11, one in the ACC, zero in the Big 12, and one lone Black head coach in the strongest football conference in the country, the SEC. That lone SEC Black head coach is Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.
In 126 years of Vanderbilt football, there had only been one Black head coach. That was
until the 2014 hiring of Coach Derek Mason, who would become only the second Black head
coach in Vanderbilt’s history. Mason had been a positions coach at multiple other universities; however, he did not have any NFL playing or coaching experience. He was brought in to coach a moderately successful Vanderbilt football team after the previous head coach, James Franklin, left in the aftermath of the infamous Vanderbilt rape case. Mason was tasked not only with making Vanderbilt football more competitive, but also with changing the culture surrounding the team and fixing the internal issues that led to the gang rape of a female Vanderbilt student and the subsequent imprisonment of multiple players.
Six years later, and Vanderbilt students, specifically Black women on Vanderbilt’s
campus, can so obviously see that he has done neither of these things. Not only is Mason’s
record on the football field abysmal—an overall record of 27-47 and a win percentage of
36%—but he has also demonstrated no effort to fix the internal issues that Franklin left behind.
Mason was tasked to bring a culture of respect for women to this team, only to further foster a culture of sexual assault within his program, which was demonstrated this past summer.
This summer, multiple Vanderbilt graduates and current students came forward to detail their sexual assaults at the hands of current and former Vanderbilt football players. Mason has failed to commit to either of his two tasks, and this is particularly disheartening when considering the demographic of who is most hurt by his complacency: Black women on campus. Unfortunately, Black women are too often left out of the conversation surrounding sexual assault even though 1 in 5 Black women are survivors of rape, in addition to Black women being the least likely demographic to be believed when disclosing a sexual assault. Of the current and former Vanderbilt students and survivors who came forward and told their stories of sexual assault this summer, the majority of them were Black women who were assaulted by current and/or former players of Mason. With this revelation, many would expect Mason, being a Black man, to support these survivors and implement some real change, but he did not. Not only did he refuse to publicly acknowledge this crisis for months, but when he finally did he stated, “What I can tell you is that having been raised by a single mom and having two daughters myself, I’ve got a true passion for what lies in this. We don’t tolerate sexual assault against women, we don’t tolerate violence against women.” This is an outrageous statement considering Mason and his coaching staff so blatantly tolerate sexual assault and violence against Black women. Allowing an accused rapist to use Vanderbilt facilities for the draft combine is tolerating violence against women. Refusing to properly reprimand players for violating women is tolerating violence against women. Posting pictures of accused rapists all over the Vanderbilt Football Instagram page is tolerating violence against women. Derek Mason tolerates violence against women.
All of Mason’s actions have demonstrated that although he talks about his Black mother
and two Black daughters, he does not care about the 1 in 5 Black women when they are here on campus who are survivors of rape. He is a Black man who made history at Vanderbilt as the longest-lasting Black head coach, and I want so badly to support a Black man breaking barriers, however, I know that this Black man does not support me. All of Coach Mason’s actions have demonstrated that he values football, losing football at that, more than Black women on campus. How can we support a Black man who is so brazen in his disrespect and lack of support for Black female survivors? There is a culture of losing football and disregard for women’s safety surrounding Derek Mason’s coaching stint. It's sickening, but not at all surprising, that a Black man who was able to break barriers, and see himself as the only Black head coach in the entire conference, refuses to care about the Black women that members of his team have traumatized.
This internal struggle, wanting to support a Black man but seeing him not support Black
women, is part of the reason that so many Black-female survivors of sexual assault do not want to report their assault. They do not want to tear down another Black man, but I believe that Derek Mason is a Black man who deserves to be torn down. We should not feel obligated to prop up a Black man who continues to sacrifice the well-being of Black women for his own success, or in Mason’s case, lack thereof. It is an amazing accomplishment to be one of the fourteen Black head coaches in the FBS, and yes, we do need more Black head coaches in college football, however, I cannot root for a Black man who has shown time and time again that he does not care about Black women who are not his mother or his daughters. Derek Mason should be fired not only for his embarrassingly low career win percentage, but also for his blatant prioritization of football over the safety of Black women at Vanderbilt.