Today, racial discrimination in the athletic community is definitely not the overtly segregated playing field rife with unequal salaries. To 25-year-old African-American basketball coach Karim McDonald, racism in the court manifests itself more insidiously through referee comments and warnings – which can hinder the targeted athletes’ confidence while playing.
Karim McDonald is the head women’s basketball coach at Green River College and a coach for Team Lavine 16U, a youth basketball team for 16-year-olds. He is African-American, having moved to Washington state from Oklahoma City as a teen. With his father from Kentucky and mother in Oklahoma, he is the only member of his family permanently based in the Pacific Northwest right now, having moved to Washington State at the age of five.
He has coached for 8 years and currently lives in Maple Valley. His travel team frequently travels to tournaments outside of Washington, including Idaho, Oregon, and Texas, and his youth team does trips to Oregon where he helps give Division I and II scholarships to his athletes. Besides playing basketball throughout high school, Karim also played clarinet in his high school band. Since his father was a longtime semi-professional coach overseas in Germany, Karim was inspired to follow in his family’s footsteps as a coach. He “got his foot in the door,” as he put it, when he established a connection with the coaching community through his cousin, a coach for the Seattle Supersonics.
His favorite thing about coaching is the relationship that you build with your athletes, even though he was initially motivated to coach from his aspiration to be in the Coaching Hall of Fame. He has gotten calls from former athletes he has coached who are now in college, saying he made a big difference in their athletic progress with his encouragement and guidance. Karim loves seeing how his former athletes are doing in the aftermath of their secondary or postsecondary education, such as what type of major or work profession they are pursuing.
Although Karim has not experienced explicit racial discrimination athletically, he and his teammates encountered instances of racial profiling during his time playing as a senior at Kentlake High School, Washington. During a tournament in Olympia, the referee told his team to make sure they weren’t sagging. Sagging is a trend which involves wearing your shorts below your waistline, rumored to be started by black hip-hop artists and skaters who took inspiration from prisoners who, according to CNN, “were often issued clothing that was too large for them and they couldn’t wear belts.” Snopes, a fact-checking website, explains why “Belts are not permitted in most correctional facilities[:] all too often the lifeless bodies of their inmate owners have been found hanging from them.” Karim and his team were caught off-guard by this stereotyping remark and they ended up losing the game afterwards, perhaps due to this shock. He had never been so obviously profiled for his skin color. “That experience definitely got me to play harder in the future and made me way more bent on winning, to prove people like them wrong.
Karim has continued to witness referee discrimination against players while coaching at the college level. Among his coach colleagues, he says he has not been targeted unfairly for his race but that he has noticed sexist discrimination against female coaches.
He admits not to have really spoken up explicitly about racial discrimination in the athletic community, but reiterates that he is definitely “all-in and will continue to stand strong against racism and hate. Throughout the coaching network, he has witnessed fellow coaches like @Kayla_reeves33 and @Casey_kush share positive messages about inclusivity or showing support for the Black Lives Matter Movement on Twitter: “A big Twitter thing that [coaches] Kayla and Casey are part of.” The coaching community, he says, “is very supportive and will call out discrimination, check in with and hold each other accountable.”
Racial profiling on the court has not stopped Karim from continuing to dedicate himself to coaching, nor has it stopped outspoken members of the coaching community from calling out these incidents and supporting their athletes regardless of skin color.