BY IRA BOUDWAY
From the owner’s box to the sideline, White men occupy most positions of authority in the National Football League, according to the latest report from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.
Twenty-six of the league’s 32 teams have a White general manager.
Twenty-four have a White head coach. Among majority owners there are only two people of color: Shahid Khan, a Pakistani-born billionaire who bought the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 and Kim Pegula, an Asian-American woman who bought the Buffalo Bills with husband Terry in 2014.
8 minority coaches
Lopsided as they are, these numbers reflect modest improvements for people of color in positions of power.
Six NFL teams have Black men making roster decisions this season as either general managers or heads of football operations, an increase by one from last season.
The hiring of Vance Joseph with the Denver Broncos and Anthony Lynn with the Los Angeles Chargers earlier this year moved the total of Black and Latino head coaches to eight, tying the NFL high set in 2011.
“I’ve been disturbed for the past couple of years at the decline in what I consider to be the two key positions of head coach and principal in charge or general manager,” said TIDES director Richard Lapchick. “So the fact that they went up in both categories and tied their all-time high in the coaching area was encouraging to me.”
Overall B grade
TIDES grades the NFL and other sports leagues annually based on the diversity of their players, coaches, team executives, and league offices.
This year, the NFL again got an A for racial hiring practices and an overall grade of B; the league’s mark for gender hiring slipped from C-plus to C.
The league provides the personnel information, and TIDES grades it based on the percentages of people of color in the various categories, weighted by group and compared to rates when TIDES began tracking the data in 1988.
The balance of racial power in the NFL has been at the forefront since August of last year when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality and racial injustice.
Dozens of players have since followed suit. In September, President Donald Trump said that players who refuse to stand during the anthem should be fired.
The suggestion led to widespread displays of solidarity during the national anthem at games the following week. Khan, one of eight NFL owners who donated to Trump’s inaugural fund, was the first of many owners to lock arms with his players during the anthem.
A for NBA
Among the people who could decide to hire free agent Kaepernick — owners, general managers, and head coaches — 13 out of roughly 100 are African-American, according to TIDES. This paucity, said Lapchick, is a “contributing factor” in Kaepernick’s unemployment.
“But the reality is when you compare the NFL to other leagues on racial hiring practices, they are doing pretty well.” The NBA also has an A from TIDES for racial hiring. Baseball gets a B.
The NFL has a long list of diversity initiatives, including a recruiting program aimed at people of color and women and a Diversity Council, established in 2002 to help foster an inclusive work environment.
In 2003, after the number of Black head coaches had dwindled to just two, the league instituted the so-called Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any vacancy.
A study last year by professors at Georgetown, George Washington, Emory and Iowa State University found that the rate of increase in non-White hires was not far ahead of what might otherwise have been expected without the new rule.
Bias starts early
The study, which covered 1,200 coaches from 1985 to 2012, also found persistent bias in favor of White people throughout the NFL coaching hierarchy.
White people were both more likely to be hired into positions with the best chance of leading to a head coaching job and, once hired, were more likely to be promoted than were similarly performing minority coaches.
Earlier studies suggest that racial bias shapes football careers starting as early as high school.
A 2013 study by professors at Kennesaw State University and the College of Mount St. Joseph found that Black high school quarterbacks were more likely than their White counterparts to be moved away from the position when they reached college.
TIDES no longer tracks players’ race by position, but from 1999 to 2014, the percentage of Black quarterbacks rose just one percentage point, from 18 percent to 19 percent.
Over the same time period, the percentage of Black players in the league has hovered just below 70 percent.