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University Of Notre Dame Hires First Black Woman Head Coach


After the Ivy League postponed all sports until January, everyone is wondering who is next.

NIELE IVEY: I'm hopeful but also understanding that I have to be prepared if there isn't a season.

GREENE: That is Niele Ivey. She's Notre Dame's new women's basketball coach, and she's the first black woman to lead any sport there. Ivey replaced the legendary Muffet McGraw, who won two national titles in her 33 years. Coach Ivey's first year - well, she can't even get on the court because of a pandemic. She has been hosting team meetings on Zoom. And in one, she focused on race.

IVEY: You know, I feel like we're going through two pandemics. You know, the civil unrest that happened abruptly after the murder of George Floyd - I just felt like it was an opportunity to talk about race, to have those uncomfortable conversations. I knew that my team was dealing with it all in different ways. You know, they were expressing it online. They were emotional. And I just wanted that Zoom call just to be, you know, an opportunity for them to just express how they felt. It was a good resource for them to ask questions, to engage together and, again, have that uncomfortable dialogue that was necessary.

GREENE: It sounds like you see your role as going far beyond basketball.

IVEY: Yes (laughter). Absolutely. And I think I've been prepared for this moment for quite a while, credit to Muffet McGraw. She was very vocal. She did a great job of, I felt like, empowering myself as an assistant, also as a former player. And you know, she's always used her platform for good. And I think I've learned that from her and just tried to carry on that torch.

GREENE: I mean, you have a son. I know you have four brothers. Is that right?

IVEY: Yes.

GREENE: So I just - you know, on a personal level, what has gone through your mind after George Floyd was killed?

IVEY: I was really upset. I'm very emotional, sleepless nights. You know, just having an 18-year-old Black son, I've always have had that fear of, you know, him coming home at night, him driving, having those hard, tough conversations about the ways to move in this society, knowing that he's viewed as a threat. It was really hard. It was really hard. It's always something that I've had to struggle with as a mother.

GREENE: So what is your message to young basketball players about - I don't know - how to try and stay focused on athletics while the world is, I mean, in such upheaval and people are being touched by things happening, you know, in the same way you are and thinking about family and thinking about race and all these difficult questions?

IVEY: I think the biggest message that, I mean, I try to live, you know, for my son and for my team is just use your platform for good. And I think that's why you see a lot of athletes and a lot of people that are speaking out now 'cause they realize there is power in their platform, there's power in their voice. And so that's really my message.

GREENE: So Notre Dame, you know, you are the first African American woman to be named head coach of any sport at the university. And I know only 4% of students at Notre Dame are Black. You said in an interview with The Chicago Tribune - you said, I am the visual representation of what's possible. Can you just reflect on that with me?

IVEY: Yeah. Like, I just think just being in this role, it shows young girls - it shows definitely girls of color that it's possible to dream this big - to be the head coach of University of Notre Dame, to show young girls that, look - you know, she's African American; she's a female. I might have that opportunity. And hopefully, my role and my presence just inspires to everyone. And so I'm just grateful and blessed to be in this role.

GREENE: Well, Coach Ivey, congratulations for taking over as head coach of your alma mater - and hope you get on that court with your team as soon as possible. Thank you so much.

IVEY: (Laughter) Thank you. Thank you so much. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: July 10, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous headline incorrectly referred to the University of Notre Dame as Notre Dame University.