NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Chancellor Gordon Gee thought he was making history at Vanderbilt University when he eliminated the athletic department in 2003.
The real history though was made when Gee tapped David Williams to oversee athletics as it merged with the university. In 2012, when the athletics department was restored, Williams officially became the first African-American athletic director in the school’s history.
“I can look at the schools that represent the Southeast Conference, of which I’m now one of the AD’s in, and remember when there were no African-American athletes and for most of them there were no African-American students,” Williams said.
That was the reality for Williams when he was growing up. While Williams was born in Michigan and went to integrated schools, his summers were spent below the Mason-Dixon Line.
“Every summer I went back down to Mississippi and I saw a different world,” he remembered.
In 2003, it was a world he contemplated joining for the first time when Vanderbilt University came calling.
“There were people that told me don’t, and a lot of people that told me to do,” Williams said.
The most important words though came from his father who pointed out the magnitude of the opportunity at hand.
“When I was offered the job here and I called my dad to tell him, I was in Columbus, Ohio. His first comment was, ‘Vanderbilt – that was a place as I could I couldn’t walk on their campus,’” Williams said.
Williams would go on and do more than walk on the campus – he stepped into history by becoming the first African-American AD in the school’s history. It’s a big job that came with big pressure.
“Pressure that I put on myself is always to try to do a good job from the fact that if you are the first, it means absolutely nothing if there’s not a second,” Williams said.
Williams has since gone on to help more history at Vanderbilt as they hired the first two black head football coaches in school history with James Franklin and Derek Mason.
“I think what James [Franklin] did is he did a good enough job to make Derek more acceptable,” Williams explained.
Williams said he is waiting on the next minority AD in the SEC and he said he knows exactly how he will greet that person when the day comes.
“It’s nice to see you,” he said.
The SEC isn’t the only conference still lacking diversity. There are only 10 African-American athletic directors in the five power conferences.