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Positions of power: coaching and administration

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Referring to quarterbacks, head coaches, and athletic directors, Kenneth L. Shropshire of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has described the number of African Americans in "positions of power" as "woefully low". In 2000, 78% of players in the NBA were black, but only 33% of NBA officials were minorities. The lack of minorities in positions of leadership has been attributed to racial stereotypes as well "old boy networks" and white administrators networking within their own race. In 2003, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule, requiring teams searching for a new head coach to interview at least one minority candidate.

With an inadequate number of minorities in executive positions in the NFL, the NFL decided to revise the Rooney Rule to include teams to interview minorities for general manager positions. There has been backlash on how effective this rule has been and if there needs to be more revisions to this rule. As recent as 2019, there are only four minority head coaches representing NFL teams: Ron Rivera, Mike Tomlin, Brian Flores, and Anthony Lynn. Because of racial discrimination, which AAP News & Journal defines as, “a form of social inequality that includes experiences resulting from legal and nonlegal systems of discrimination”, it has resulted in unequal outcomes and a power struggle. A vast majority of the representation of minority coaches are held at positional or assistant coaches. With a lot of people [minorities] competing for head coaching positions with only a limited supply, it allows the very few minority head coaches to get handsomely salaries while the rest get average or low pay. Not only are finances an issue, the talent that is being presented is ultimately looked over because minorities coaches are not being hired and the NFL is meeting their status quo, of at least interviewing minorities for head coaching and general manager positions. Social networks also play a big role in how coaches are hired. With the recent hirings of coaches like Sean McVay and Kliff Kingsbury, according The Undefeated writer, Jason Reid, black assistants told him that, “It’s crushing that someone with such an unimpressive resume could ascend to the top of their business merely because his background is on offense…”.

The power dynamics between the owners and players in the NFL has created racial inequality between the two groups. 30 owners are white while only two owners are of color (one is from Pakistan and one is Asian American). Richard Roth, sports attorney who has represented Peyton Manning, claimed, “22 of the teams in the NFL have been owned by the same person or family for at least 20 years”. Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, claimed, “Who owners invite into their fraternity-and its overwhelmingly a fraternity-is self-selective”. Owners of teams must be very wealthy as teams “Cost upwards of $1B”. Due to wealth inequality in the United States, there are few black billionaires who could be potential candidates. Furthermore, from a social class standpoint, it is very difficult for there to be a black owner as “very few black people are part of these billionaires’ boys’ clubs”.

Many of the racial problems shown in sports are present because of the lack of diversity in ownership. The predominant presence of white male owners in sports drives a wedge between members of the organization. The narrative portrayed by ownership in sports paints the same picture of slave and owner from 400 years ago. Draymond Green, Power forward for the Golden State Warriors, ignited debates on the relationship between team ownership and players. In 2017, Green stated that the NBA should really consider the term “owner” and its usage dating back to chattel slavery, considering the majority of NBA players are black and nearly all team ownership is white. This has been a fact virtually the entire history of sports organizations. In 1994, Black people accounted for 80% of the NFL players, 65% of the NBA players, and 18% of the MLB players, but less than 10% of the Team owners. 25 years later, the percentage of black athletes and team owners has not changed much with Black people accounting for 70% of the NFL players, 81% of the NBA players, and 8% of the MLB players. Team ownership is still below 10%. However, one thing that changed with time is the term for ownership in the NBA. In efforts to be politically correct, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has declared that the organization will no longer use the term “owner” and will now refer to owners as governors and partial owners as alternate governors.

Aside from a lack of black owners, owners make hundreds of times what the players make. This is similar to the NFL disparity between owners and the players. According to a report by the Green Bay Packers, the NFL earned $7,808,000 from TV deals, and split it among its 32 teams evenly. This means that each NFL owner “made $244m last year in 2016”. By contrast, the “average NFL player made $2.1 in 2015”. The owners of these teams are making hundreds of times what the players are. This is similar to the difference in pay between CEOs and average workers of corporations. Professor Pfeffer, a social inequality professor at the University of Michigan, claimed, “CEOs make more than 350 times what the average worker makes”. The work of the owners is not hundreds of times more valuable than that of the players. However, it is the power dynamics and politics of the league structure that allow owners to make so much more.

In a pre-season game against the San Diego Chargers, Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, chose to kneel instead of standing in solidarity with his teammates for the National Anthem. He did this to raise awareness for victims of police brutality and oppression of minorities in America. Many people believe believe Kaepernick is a hero for raising awareness for important social issues. However, his actions caused a massive backlash by fans and the media who decried him for acting anti American and disrespecting American troops. Furthermore, players from other teams began to kneel instead of stand with the national anthem. When questioned by the media, he claimed, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He continued, ““If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right,” he says.” According to NFL policy, “There is no rule saying players must stand during the national anthem”.

Kaepernick’s act caused many other players to also stand during the national anthem. Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, claimed, “They can’t have the inmates running the prison” during a meeting with owners and no current players. After the meeting finished, Troy Vincent, former cornerback for the Miami Dolphins, claimed, “In all my years of playing in the NFL, I have been called every name in the book, including the N-word-but never felt like an inmate”. Many players took to social media to protest the racist rhetoric of Bob McNair. Richard Sherman tweeted in response, “I can appreciate ppl being candid. Don’t apologize! You meant what you said. Showing true colors allows ppl to see you for who you are”. Damon Harrison Sr. tweeted, “...Did that wake some of y’all up now?”.

Similar to the discrepancy between participation and leadership of blacks in American professional sports leagues, NCAA sports also have had a low percentage of administrators and coaches relative to the number of athletes. For example, during the 2005–2006 academic year, high revenue NCAA sports (basketball and football) had 51 percent black student athletes, whereas only 17 percent of head coaches in the same high revenue sports were black. Also, in the same 2005–2006 year, only 5.5 percent of athletic directors at Division I "PWIs" (Primarily White Institutions), were black. Terry Bowden, a notable white Division I football coach, suggests that the reason many university presidents will not hire black coaches is "because they are worried about how alumni and donors will react." Bowden also refers to the "untapped talent" existing within the ranks of assistant coaches in Division I football. The data backs up this claim, with 26.9 percent of Division I assistant coaches during the 2005-06 year in men's revenue sports being black, a notably higher percentage than of head coaches. In terms of administrative positions, they have been concentrated largely in the hands of whites. As recently as 2009, 92.5 percent of university presidents in the FBS were white, 87.5 percent of athletic directors were white, and 100 percent of the conference commissioners were white. Despite these statistics, black head coaches have become more prevalent at the FBS level. As of 2012, there are now 15 black head coaches in FBS football, including now 3 in the SEC, a conference that did not hire its first black head coach until 2003.



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