The first 38 minutes of Hubert Davis’ introductory press conference as the new men’s basketball head coach at the University of North Carolina hit each of the points that new hires for high-profile coaching gigs are expected to.
He was gracious, emotional, and humble. He told the story of his own journey to North Carolina as a relatively unheralded recruit, his experience while playing there, and how the coaching he received helped develop him into an NBA prospect—context making him uniquely qualified for this position. And while not overtly charismatic in a way that jumped off the screen, he possessed the appropriate timbre for a coach at a southern school. You can picture him schmoozing with boosters, glad-handing school administrators, bantering with media, and reassuring parents and AAU coaches—the soft skills that are as much of a requirement for this sort of job as his basketball mind is.
He was so close to having the sort of impressive and immediately forgettable introduction I’m sure he wanted, that he could probably taste it. “This has been nerve-wracking, but I think I did good.” I imagine he thought to himself. “Just a few more minutes, and I’ll be able to get something to eat. Maybe I’ll treat myself to a steak.”
And then, at around the 38-minute and 30-second mark, he was asked for his thoughts on being the first Black head coach in the storied program’s history.
It was a softball question, with the sort of answer you could grab from a template. But even before he said the thing that caused this press conference to be the, um, opposite of forgettable, there was a clear sign of an awkwardness about race. Specifically, how he repeatedly referred to himself and other Black people as “African American.” No one who is Black and is also comfortable talking about race says this. It’s formal, robotic, and anachronistic, and it just feels like an overcorrection. And he doesn’t have the excuse of mirroring the language of the question—which often happens in situations like this—because the question said “Black.” Davis saying “African American” was a choice. It was also a choice to express, as his answer concluded, how proud he is to have a white wife.
Now, I do not have much experience with white wives, because I’ve never had one. But I’m certain that if I did, I’d be proud of her too! You’re supposed to be proud of your spouse! The pride thing isn’t the weird thing here! Pride doesn’t see color! What’s weird is his choice to articulate a pride in his wife’s whiteness, because that’s weird and also because that information has no relationship to the question or his coaching prowess. It was a non-sequitur, where the only possible rationale for it was that he believed it somehow softened his aggressively uncontroversial statements about race seconds earlier, and that’s a very, very, very bad reason to make that choice. Essentially, he All Lives Matter-ed that answer, when no one was asking for it.
I could even understand him bringing that up if the question was about racial healing instead of his status as the first Black. It still would’ve been a weird choice, but I’d get it. Instead, he chose to end his thoughts about the dearth of Black coaches in sports with “BUT I GOT A WHITE WIFE AND HALF WHITE KIDS THO.” And now, we will remember this press conference for a long time.
Anyway, I just hope Coach Davis still got his steak.