Marisa Moseley Just Became the Youngest Black Woman Head Coach In the Big 10
Marisa Moseley, incoming head coach for the University of Wisconsin’s women’s basketball team, has her work cut out for her. She’s starting a new job in the Big Ten, stepping into the spotlight as one of a growing number of women in sports leadership positions, and doing it all while navigating one of the most challenging years on record. “You’re managing your players’ wellbeing, both physically and mentally, during a pandemic and social unrest; you want to get involved and continue to try to change the world; and it’s like, ‘Oh, and I also need to sleep,’” she says.
At 39, Moseley is the youngest Black woman serving as a head coach in the Big Ten. It’s one of the biggest conferences in college sports (generating over $700 million in revenue) where the gender gap in leadership positions is glaring: only three percent of the most lucrative head coaching jobs for collegiate men’s teams go to women and only 40 percent of women’s collegiate sports teams are coached by women. But Moseley isn’t one to get distracted by the stats. “Whether I am the youngest, the oldest, the first, or the 31st, I just want to be really excellent in whatever I’m doing,” she says.
What she is focused on is changing the way the world views women’s sports.
“We tend to go with what we know, but it can’t just be where you’re only going after the little girls,” she says. “Where change is going to happen is when there are young boys who are wearing women’s jerseys—when they see women in power and women who are strong, that’s going to change the way that they view women growing up.”
As the head coach for Boston University’s women’s basketball team and an assistant coach at the University of Connecticut, Moseley has seen the power of the community that rallies around female athletes—a direct contradiction to the narrative that women’s sports just don’t draw viewers. “If you think about when men’s [professional] sports started vs. women’s sports, it’s like if you have a head start, of course your revenue stability is going to be different, of course you’re going to have a stronger base,” she says. “It’s almost unfair to say, ‘Well, you guys just don’t generate us money.’ These systems of oppression have been put in place for a long time to make this what it is. But I think what’s happening right now is a re-imagining of that system.”
As Moseley prepares to take her new role, women’s basketball is having a moment. Amid racial justice protests last summer, the women of the WNBA emerged as leaders, demonstrating the power of athletes as activists (and even helping to influence an election). And in March, tweets about the damning inequalities between women’s and men’s athlete accommodations at the NCAA March Madness tournament sparked collective outrage. Moseley “applauds” the tradition of athletes speaking out for change and sees the sport as a powerful “equalizer.” “Everyone can play it, no matter your socioeconomic background, your racial background. What I love, especially at the collegiate level, is you’re able to bring people from so many different walks of life into one team,” she says, “not just with diversity of race, but diversity of thought, diversity of experience.”
She knows how much her voice matters in this moment, too. “I think one of the greatest things that came out of 2020 when we were all at home, was that you had to face it—you couldn’t turn a blind eye [on gender inequalities and racial inequalities]. Coach Auriemma [at UConn] always used to say there’s two reasons why people don’t do something: it’s because they don’t know, or they don’t feel like it because it doesn’t impact them,” Moseley says. “I’m an educator first, that’s my responsibility. Being the only Black coach in the department, I have to carry the torch to some extent. But at the same time, I’m not the savior.”
Moseley is particularly excited about the strategic plan for diversity and inclusion at Wisconsin. “To me, it’s like, all right if you’re gonna put your money where your mouth is, and you’re going to be willing to not just have difficult conversations, but really enact change, then hell yeah, I’m all for it. Let’s get to work,” she says. “Because the reality is, yes, I’m a basketball coach and my job ultimately is to win games, but if I’m not impacting these young women’s lives, if we’re not providing a space where they can grow and learn and be empowered, then we’re not doing it right. Winning and losing is only part of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
Macaela MacKenzie is a senior editor at Glamour. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.