A Lack of Diversity in the Pool Did Not Stop Marist’s Coaches From Rising to the Top

In college athletics, there has been an ongoing lack of diversity amongst athletes, coaching staff, and those in higher positions. In swimming and water polo, however, the gap widens as both sports have the reputation of being overwhelmingly wealthy and white. 

As of this year, Marist College is the only school in the country to have all of its water sports programs head coached by people of color.

“It’s kind of funny because out of all the places, this is the one,” said Marist’s head water polo coach Chris Vidale, as he explained there is a large Latinx population in water polo but not too many people of color. “I didn’t expect it.”

Among head coaches in all of the NCAA in 2020, 84 percent of coaches were white, 9 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic or Latinx, and 1 percent of nonresident alien, unknown, and Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. There has been much change in these numbers since 2012, the oldest data on the site.

Marist swimming and diving head coach Anthony Randall keeps track of coaches of color taking on new positions, as there are very few in swimming as well. 

Both Randall and Vidale see their identity as a positive position for them in many ways, especially when welcoming new athletes to Marist. “They have that bit of comfort knowing that there is at least somebody that looks like me, and that somebody is at the top of the food chain of that department, that program,” said Vidale. 

Having that person or group of people to relate to is what Vidale and Randall lacked in their college athletic careers. That’s why they hope to fulfill that role for future Marist athletes.

In college, Vidale heard microaggressions left and right — from, “You’re not black, you’re from the islands so that doesn’t make me a person of color,” to “Black people cannot swim. How did you do it?” Since he swims, people would assume he was from Jamaica, to which he would say, “There are other islands out in the world, right?”

Vidale recounted a memory from swimming as an undergraduate at Iona College when his teammates would call him by the name of a previous teammate rather than by his own name. Current Iona men’s and women’s water polo coach Brian Kelly stood up for Vidale, telling his team to call him by his actual name.

“I thought that it was good of him to have my back on that. I was just naive… but they’re calling me completely different names,” said Vidale. “Looking back at it now, it’s kind of lame but I felt welcomed into it because they gave me a nickname.”

Vidale is from Trinidad and Tobago and competed on its national team after completing college at Iona, where he was a poster child for the water polo program. He was “the brown guy who could swim.” Pictures of Vidale swimming were featured at alumni events, athletic events, downstairs, and upstairs in the athletic facility. Vidale believes these photos are still up today.

Vidale in water polo action. Photo Credit: Swimming World Magazine

“I’m 36 right now and growing up in that generation you kind of just took it for what it was,” said Vidale. “Somebody would make a nasty comment and they’re an idiot and you move on. There weren’t many people to talk to and many people advocating for people. Not many people advocated for me when I was growing up.”

As for Randall, he grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and was accustomed to not being around many people of color. Therefore, he was comfortable in a similar environment during his time as an athlete at the University of Rhode Island. However, there were not many people of color at URI who were in higher roles, whether that be a coach or an administrator. 

The tables turned though when he went on to be an assistant coach and eventually associate head coach at Fresno State, where there was a stronger minority population. 

“I felt more comfortable there because I saw a lot more minorities in coaching and athletes. So it was a very welcoming environment which allowed me to feel comfortable on the other side of who I am,” he said. 

Both coaches see their role as meaningful and are aware of the impact they have on those around them. Yet Vidale said he sometimes grows frustrated when he feels that he is paraded in front of prospective student-athletes of color just to prove that there are also coaches of color in the athletic department. Then again, he understands why this is happening and that his colleagues are trying to understand and learn. “I don’t want to discredit their efforts,” said Vidale. 

Randall keeps in mind the impact his interactions with his swimmers and divers can have, especially if he is the only person of color they regularly interact with. 

“How am I reflecting how I want them to interact with other people of color? Or if they leave this school and then I’m the only interaction with a person of color, am I changing the stereotype that they may just see out in the open? Or in the media? So that is something I am strongly aware of too,” said Randall.

Randall pictured in swimming gear at URI. Photo Credit: Anthony Randall

The percentage of full-time Marist faculty of color has increased since 2010 from 13.2 percent to 21.5 percent in 2019. The percentage of freshmen students of color enrolled at the college has also increased by 9.8 percentage points between 2010 and 2020.

In the few months Randall has been here, he has found that Marist is open to cultural differences, as this generation of students tends to be more receptive to them. 

“I don’t know if it’s a deterrent for kids or if it’s like a slap in the face because it’s like where were you all those years? But it’s still good that somebody is trying to have some extra representation of us in this sport because it’s definitely important,” said Vidale.

“Exposure is the biggest thing,” said Randall. “So if I can meet recruits who are people of color or minorities, it allows them to think ‘I can do what I love doing, my sport, but then also as a future for that outside of just being an athlete.’ I think that to me, is important, too.”

Edited by Issy Cicinelli and Mackenzie Meaney

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