Why 30 of the 32 NFL head coaches are white, behind the NFL’s dismal diversity record

A couple of weeks after the close of the National Football League regular season, there are only one Black head coach and one Latino head coach left in the league: mike tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Rum Rivera of the Washington football team, respectively. This follows the firing of brian flowers by the Miami Dolphins and David Culley by the Houston Texans.

In other words, in a league where most of the the players are black, 30 of the 32 head coaches in the NFL are white.

I have studied diversity and inclusion in sport For more than Two decades, including the ways that race and gender intersect to affect leadership opportunities for woman Y mens. My research shows that biased decision-making, organizational cultures that value similarity, and social forms of bias and discrimination are to blame for a lack of diversity among NFL head coaches.

history of exclusion

The depressing numbers are nothing new. In 1989, shell art he became the first black head coach of an NFL team in the modern era. But his hiring didn’t break the barriers faced by other minority coaches in the NFL.

Hall of Famer Art Shell was the first black head coach in the NFL.
Photo by Kirby Lee/NFLPhotoLibrary

Seeking to address its diversity issue, the NFL adopted the Rooney’s rule in 2003, requiring teams to interview at least two minority candidates for their head coaching vacancies. In 2021, the league extended the rule include general managers and offensive and defensive coordinators.

The policy had short-term positive effects, as the league saw an increase in Black and Latino coaches. However, earnings have since declined, and the number of black head coaches at the start of the 2021 season, three, was the same as it was in 2003.

In short, the NFL is back to where it started.

looking for explanations, it is useful to explore the factors at the individual, organizational and societal levels. Research evidence shows that some of these explanations are better than others.

individual factors

On an individual level, people may not get a job if they lack skills or experience, don’t have connections, or don’t apply. However, there is no consistent evidence that any of these explanations describe black coaches.

For example, scholars have found that black assistant coaches in college football were less likely to be promoted and had less job satisfaction than their white counterparts, but it was also not a function of the coaches’ experience, skills, or social networks. This is also the case in the NFL, where sports economists have also shown that black assistant coaches are just as skilled as their white counterparts.

Other researchers have analyzed NFL data from 1985 to 2018 and found no racial differences in the performance of head coaches.

In short, there is no evidence that black coaches are unqualified.

Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team is the only Latino head coach in the NFL.
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Organizations and leaders

On the other hand, research shows that leaders and organizations make a difference in who gets hired. For example, an analysis from the Institute for Global Sports at Arizona State University shows that seven NFL teams have hired only white head coaches.

The types of positions that black coaches have access to are also important. Offensive and defensive coordinators are frequently online for head coaching opportunities. But the research in NFL Y NCAA levels reliably shows that white coaches are overrepresented in these coveted coordinator positions.

What is known as “the glass cliff” offers another organizational explanation. this theory suggests that members of underrepresented groups are more likely to be hired by organizations that have a history of poor performance or are in crisis. When performance continues to decline, leaders are likely to be replaced by members of the majority group. Researchers have shown that race and racism also affect the crystal cliff, including leaders in sport. Relative to white coaches, minority men’s basketball coaches were more likely to be hired by teams with a losing record, and if they couldn’t turn things around, they were likely to be replaced by white coaches.

These examples show that leaders clearly make a difference. A study of the Las Vegas Raiders further illustrates the point. Under former general manager Reggie McKenzie, who is black, the Raiders had the highest proportion of black players in the league, at 79.2%. In 2016, when McKenzie won the NFL Executive of the Year award, the Raiders also had the highest proportion of black coaches, at 82.3%.

Jon Gruden on the sidelines.
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was fired during the 2021 season following revelations that he sent racist and homophobic emails.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After the 2018 season, the Raiders fired McKenzie and hired a white head coach, Jon Gruden, and a white general manager, Mike Mayock. The percentage of black players has decreased every year since. In 2021, in one of the most damaging blows to the NFL in recent memory, Gruden was fired for making racist and homophobic comments following an analysis of thousands of emails sent to NFL executives and others. McKenzie was also fired after the season. At the same time, the percentage of black players on the Raiders roster dropped to 67.2%.

Although the study on the Raiders focuses on the players, organization scholars have consistently shown that people are more likely to hire other people of the same race. Bias among decision makers can affect the diversity of the organization.

systemic racism

Ultimately, social factors make a difference, the most prevalent of which are systemic forms of racism, meaning racial bias at the community, state, and national levels. Social factors reflect the collective racial prejudice, as well as the racially tinged laws, policies, and regulations embedded in institutions of societies.

A focus on systemic racism goes beyond individual actors and prioritizes social patterns of prejudice and discrimination. For example, my colleague and I have shown that county-level racism predicts fan reactions to Black Lives Matter protests by NFL players.

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Systemic racism has a lasting impact that can affect people years later. researchers have shown that the counties most dependent on slavery in 1860 also have high levels of racism today. As systemic racism increased in these counties, black residents’ poverty rates increased and their social mobility decreased.

Given the impact of systemic racism on all elements of society, it is not surprising that the NFL trainers, analysts and scholars, including those of journalism, sports studies, sociology, sport management, Y behavioral science – point to systemic racism as a reason for the lack of black coaches in the league.

The evidence is clear: Organizations, their leaders, and systemic racism all contribute. Until structural change occurs, the pattern will continue.

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Why 30 of the 32 NFL head coaches are white, behind the NFL’s dismal diversity record