Breaking Basketball Barriers

Former women's basketball team manager Taylor Jackson '17 is pursuing NBA coaching dreams through Ohio State University's sports coaching graduate program this fall. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

August 28, 2017

By Matt Hawkins

It’s been a long day for sports communication major Taylor Jackson ’17. He’s spent most of it sweeping floors, checking equipment, running errands and chasing basketballs in Renaissance Coliseum’s practice facility. As the women’s basketball team manager, he still has a couple hours of laundry before he can sit down to a late-night meal and homework.

He endures the grueling duties, made more difficult by crutches he uses to combat cerebral palsy, knowing the challenges bring him closer to his lifelong dream: Becoming the National Basketball Association’s first physically disabled coach.

“I have a chance to do something that’s never been done,” he said. “I want to leave a legacy and pave a way for people with disabilities. It’s tiring to be a manager, but it will get me where I want to go.”

Jackson served the basketball team for two coaching staffs. In his free time, he focused on campus leadership development opportunities to prepare for the future.

The love of basketball came early in life. He grew up around sports in Chicago’s western suburbs. When he realized he couldn’t compete in games with his twin brother Tyler, he devoted himself to supporting Tyler’s teams. That meant keeping stats, assisting coaches and intently watching the action.

As he observed games unfold from the bench, he realized he could coach if he couldn’t play. Role models like late Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt and the San Antonio Spurs front office staff inspired him from afar.

Jackson chose his college path with leadership development in mind. Sports communication offered a versatile communication tool set. Minors in leadership and business strengthened skills applicable on the court, in the front office and in life.

Jackson found the sideline vantage point through communication professor Dr. Paul Gullifor and men’s basketball play-by-play voice Dave Snell ‘76. It became an unexpected dream opportunity as he lived the ups-and-downs of college sports, including player and coaching staff transitions.

“I saw how (Coach) Brooks and (Coach) Gorski took care of the little things in life,” he said. “They took special interest in molding everyone from athletes to janitors and facilities people. I benefitted from that because they gave me a chance to be involved and treated me as one of their own.”

Jackson also challenged himself off the court through an internship in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and a panel spot during Bradley’s annual Charley Steiner Symposium. Through ODI, he helped organize Bradley’s first “Start Seeing Disability” event, which featured lectures and activities focused on disability awareness. He also became the first student to share the stage in a Steiner Symposium panel.

Long days in the gym and eye-opening ventures on campus built more than a toolbox of life skills. They forged a confident man with a steady gaze toward the future.

“You come into your own when you’re doing something you never imagined possible,” he said. “I thought I was a disabled black kid who wanted to be an NBA coach. I realized I can just be Taylor Jackson, and that’s enough.

Ohio State University is Jackson’s next test. He entered OSU’s first-of-its-kind master of sports coaching program to further his coaching, personal development and sports management knowledge. The degree will take him another step toward the bright stadium lights in his lifelong dreams.

“Bradley was transformational to me, and now I’ll have a good chance to build on my success here,” he said. “In the end, it would mean so much to me to make it to the NBA someday. It would be such a way to make a global impact.”