Kimura begins work as associate athletic director

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

It’s been almost two months since Minneapolis Police killed George Floyd and set off a nationwide civil rights movement that rivals protests from the 1960s in size and scope. The calls for justice are ringing beyond legal goals. Even college athletic programs have been thrust to the forefront of a national reckoning on race.

High-profile football programs such as Iowa and Clemson have faced their fair share of criticism about how older, white coaches have treated the Black players they coach. And after a series of calls from former athletes for change, Pitt Athletics is beginning to enact measures aimed at addressing inequality and discrimination in-house.

One of those measures was the promotion of Fumi Kimura — a former Athletic Department liaison and coordinator for Athletic Director Heather Lyke — to the title of associate athletic director for culture, diversity and engagement last week.

Kimura has experience in college athletics. She was an assistant director of athletic communication at UC Irvine, serving as primary contact for Anteaters baseball and women’s volleyball.

While she did not identify any specific issues within Pitt Athletics that warranted the creation of the new position she holds, Kimura told The Pitt News that her job will be to oversee initiatives and education of the “social injustice issues impacting our student-athletes and staff.”

But several former Pitt athletes have identified problems within the Athletic Department recently. Last month, Elias Reynolds, a former Panther football player who has since transferred, called out head coach Pat Narduzzi for his use of the word “thug.” Additionally, former track athlete Jordan Fields released a list of demands that Kimura said served as a catalyst for some of the steps Pitt Athletics is taking.

“We did receive Jordan Fields’ op-ed and have implemented several of the ideas she listed through Panthers United,” Kimura said. “The dialogue that was sparked by her letter led to additional initiatives that have been or are being implemented.”

Narduzzi has since apologized, and Kimura pointed to initiatives like Panthers United — a committee of student-athletes, coaches and athletic department staff — and the Voting Matters Campaign as evidence of the steps Pitt Athletics is taking to empower its Black athletes. According to Kimura, more initiatives are still in the vetting process.

But there is more work to be done. She said student-athletes and staff have expressed numerous concerns and suggestions for what Pitt can do to support Black people affiliated with the Athletic Department.

“Concerns such as the need for swifter communication during national crises, education and training of the staff that emphasizes topics within diversity, equity and inclusion … and the need to promote the unique stories of our Black student-athletes, alumni and community are among several of the initiatives that came from our student-athletes and staff,” Kimura said.

Kimura said she will work primarily with Penny Semaia, senior associate athletic director for life skills, as well as the athletes, coaches and staff that make up Panthers United as well.

She will also serve as Pitt’s representative for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s newly formed committee on social and racial justice — called CORE for Champions of Racial Equality — which aims “to promote and encourage racial equity and social justice through education, partnerships, engagement and advocacy.”

Despite her tenure in college athletics, Kimura declined to comment on whether or not there are any problems with race or diversity that are common across athletic programs and conferences. She instead told The Pitt News that she looks at college sports as only a small part of national race relations.

“I am not able to lend insight on the diversity challenges at other institutions, but we need to recognize this is a national issue,” she said. “Working together, we can make a positive impact that will resonate well beyond our own department and University.”