Unsung Heroes Part I: Roderick Jackson V. Birmingham Board of Education
Photo Credit: espn.com
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, because standing up for what one believes is the right thing to do often times leads to consequences and backlash.
In “History Repeats Itself: The Protest that Began Over Four Decades Ago,” John Carlos, National Track and Field Hall of Famer and Olympic medalist, discusses the consequences he experienced following a humanitarian statement during the 1968 Olympics that was viewed as a protest of the American flag. Carlos and Tommie Smith, Olympic gold medalist, received death threats and were suspended from the U.S. team after standing with gloved fists during the medal ceremony.
In some cases, people may even be blackballed for standing up (or kneeling down) and speaking out. Former San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who spearheaded a national protest by choosing to kneel during the singing of the national anthem during the 2016-17 NFL season, has yet to be signed by an NFL team for the upcoming season. While Kaepernick isn’t the best quarterback on the market, he’s not the worst; therefore, there’s a strong chance he’s being blackballed. http://wp.me/p4cFCW-qw
In a 2013 AL.com article, former Ensley and Jackson Olin High School girls head basketball coach Roderick Jackson suggests he’s been “permanently blackballed” from coaching in the Birmingham city school system. In 2001, as the girls head coach of then Ensley High School, Jackson complained the girls didn’t receive the same treatment as the boys team: the girls practiced in the old gym with wooden backboards, bent rims and no heat, had old uniforms and no budget for shoes, weren’t able to keep any money generated from admission and concessions and had to car pool to games while the boys used buses.
According to espn.com, Jackson spent $700 out of his own pocket to supply his players with shoes in his second season as head coach. He asked to review the athletic department’s books but was told they weren’t any of his business. Jackson complained to the athletic director and principal and they ignored him. Players even met with the principle to complain about the car pooling and practice facility; she told the players she would change it but never did. To make matters worse, the girls junior varsity program was cut.
Jackson was fired from his coaching duties but continued to teach health and physical education at Ensley. He sued local officials, claiming he was fired as a retaliation for his constant complaints that the basketball facilities for the girls were harsh compared to the ones for the boys. Two years after being fired – in the midst of his lawsuit – Jackson was rehired as the girls head coach by a new principal who eventually moved the girls’ practices to the main gym.
Jackson sued under Title IX, a law that requires equality for women participating in scholastic sports at schools receiving federal funding. At first, a U.S. district court judge ruled whistleblowers (a person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an illicit activity) are not protected against retaliation under Title IX. Jackson then took his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta and lost again. His case finally reached the Supreme Court and he won in a 5-4 ruling in March 2005, which allowed his lawsuit to move forward.
In 2006, Jackson reached a settlement with the Birmingham Board of Education. The terms of the deal were that Jackson would receive $50,000 and his attorneys $350,000 for the five years it took to fight the case, Jackson would remain the head girls basketball coach, the school board would provide equal facilities for all girls and boys teams citywide and the board would appoint Title IX coordinators for each school to ensure compliance, including training.
One would think after the settlement all would be well with Jackson, right? But, still having to work within the school system you settled a lawsuit with probably isn’t the most ideal situation. In 2013, Jackson told AL.com he’d applied for more than 20 coaching jobs at Birmingham high schools and middle schools and received one interview for a high school girls basketball position. Jackson didn’t get the job and asserted his experience and qualifications exceeded the coach who was hired.
Although it isn’t clear why Jackson is no longer the girls head coach at now Jackson Olin High School, in which one of the terms of the settlement was that he’d remain the head coach of the girls program, it’s hard to believe Jackson has applied for more than 20 coaching positions within the Birmingham school system and hasn’t been hired to any of them; it can’t be due to a lack of experience or skills. Have all of the other applicants really been more qualified for the position every single time?
Eventhough Jackson’s 40-61 coaching record at Ensley/Jackson Olin is far from impressive, Jackson’s 2001 team sent six players to college on scholarship, he has degrees from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Alabama State and he served six years in the U.S. Army… An attribute every coach should possess is leadership – having served in the military is the epitome of leadership, and Jackson can’t even get a middle school coaching position? Something smells fishy.
Since the final settlement, Jackson has taught at Jackson Olin, Woodlawn, Parker and Huffman – all high schools within the Birmingham school district – but he hasn’t been able to coach. Jackson’s most recent position is a physical education teacher at Sun Valley Elementary, still within the Birmingham school district.
Jackson told AL.com he loves what he does and he feels like he’s destined to coach and educate kids. He also said he’s lost $10,500 a year from stipend money he once received as a girls basketball and soccer coach and that could’ve been a big boost in his retirement fund.
Not to negate the fact Jackson should be able to get a coaching job within the Birmingham district, but it’s baffling trying to understand why he didn’t try his luck teaching and coaching within another school system; he was already tenured so that would’ve carried over to any school district within Alabama. There are other nearby school systems (Midfield, Fairfield, Bessemerand Hoover) that likely would’ve given him a coaching opportunity.
Nevertheless, Jackson added he had about four years at the earliest before he could retire with a 25-year package, but he may want to continue to work for many years to come. These were words spoken by Jackson four years ago, there’s no telling how he may feel in the present.
Jackson speaking up for what he believed was right and a lawsuit change his life forever, for worse more so than for the better. It’s sad someone who made a difference and served as the catalyst to enact positive change for female athletes and sport not only in the Birmingham district, but districts throughout the state and the nation could be treated so poorly opposed to being honored for his actions and courage.
Even at the collegiate level, men and women athletes are entitled to equal facilities and treatment under Title IX; if women’s sports teams use different facilities or transportation than the men’s teams, it’s by choice and not by force. This is why I write – for unsung heroes like Roderick Jackson – something must be done…
(November 29, 2006). Basketball coach files suit and scores. CNN.
Brady, Erik. (November 5, 2004). Girls coach at center of critical Title IX clash. USA Today.
Solomon, Jon. (July 22, 2013). Ex Title IX Plaintiff Roderick Jackson claims he’s “blackballed” from coaching
Birmingham schools. AL.com.
Tanber, George. J. (December 12, 2006). Coach Puts Title IX on ‘radar screen.’ espn.com.