By: Arielle Granston and Jon Eckert
SILVER SPRING, Md.– In the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the two sports that generate the most revenue are dominated by black student-athletes, and yet when it comes to head coaches, there is little diversity in the organization.
The participatory demographic for college football and basketball teams has shifted from being majority white to predominantly black student-athletes. In contrast, head coaching positions around the country have not transformed to represent this.
Five Thirty Eight compiled data and found that, “from 2008 to 2018, there were 250 head-coaching transitions at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. Only 2 percent of those transitions saw one black head coach hand the keys over to another black head coach. Fifteen percent of the transitions involved a coach who did not identify as African American being replaced by someone who did, and 12 percent involved a coach who identified as African American being replaced by someone who didn’t.”
Based on the length of their coaching tenures and their records, when African American coaches are hired, they are statistically less likely to be given the same chances compared to their white counterparts.
Damon Pigrom, who is a varsity basketball coach at Montgomery Blair High School and black, finds the statistics disturbing.
“I think it’s sad, the number of African-American athletes that are playing at that level and yet the percentage of their coaches that have the same ethnic background are not equal,” said Pigrom. “I think that [university presidents and athletic directors] are not comfortable hiring people that don’t look and resemble like them. When it’s all said and done, there are smart black people and there are smart white people, and they’re just not comfortable hiring people that look different from them.”
In terms of the qualifications needed for these head positions, Pigrom said, “When you coach at that level, a lot of those coaches have played at the collegiate level so you can’t say that black coaches don’t have the playing experience in order to coach.”
In the professional leagues, recently, the New York Giants hired Joe Judge as their new head coach, the former Patriots wide-receivers coach.
This jump from a positions coach to a head coaching position is very uncommon.
“He had never been an offensive or defensive coordinator and he gets promoted to a head coaching job,” said Pigrom. “How many black former head coaches are there that are looking for jobs? How many current black offensive and defensive coordinators are out there that didn’t even get an interview?”
The move has raised serious questions about whether there were more qualified coaches of color that were passed up for the position.
Not only are coaches of color not hired as often compared to their white counterparts, but history has shown us that often they are fired or forced to resign after given less time to prove themselves as a competent coach.
Pigrom said, “[the former head coach at Florida State, Willie Taggart,] did not have a successful year but he was only given one and a half years to ‘prove himself’. The other side of it is that there are a number of white coaches that get more than a year and a half, they get two years, three years, four years, or they even get recycled from previous jobs.”
From the years 2008 to 2017, 72 percent of minority college basketball coaches were fired or forced to resign compared to just 60 percent of white coaches. In only 7 percent of the cases that a minority coach was fired were they replaced by another coach of color.
Scholars have developed a theory known as Critical Race Theory (CRT), which is used to examine and understand society as it relates to race. One of the main tenets of CRT is the Permanence of Racism, or the idea that racism is permanent and has been integrated into all aspects of society.
Many believe that this permanence was developed through historical events, and that due to our nation’s problematic relationship with race, racism has been intertwined throughout society so intricately, that when it comes to occurrences such as this underrepresentation in athletics it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact beginning.
“[Being able to relate to players] is important,” said Pigrom. “Being a former player myself, I can relate to what my student-athletes are going through. Especially at the high school level, they’re teenagers and they’re dealing with teenage high school age stuff and I was there before. Clearly, there are successful white coaches that have coached black players and they found a way to relate to those players, as well, but one could say it’s easier to relate with people of similar backgrounds.”
So if we can’t quite pin down the origins to the underrepresentation problem in athletics, can we at least find a solution?
“It starts at the top,” suggests Pigrom. “It starts with the presidents of these universities, it starts with the athletic directors, they should give African-Americans more chances. Coaches work their way up the ladder, they often start off as a graduate assistant and work their way up to assistant coaching and head coaching positions. There’s a number of assistant coaches or the head assistants that don’t get those opportunities.”
Many see holding university presidents and athletic directors accountable in their hiring practices as a powerful way to make coaching more representative of the student-athletes playing in those sports, but it isn’t a silver bullet.
“Unfortunately some of the things that happen in sports mirror things in society and everyday life,” said Pigrom. “And one could probably say that this is what people of color deal with in corporate America, even as entrepreneurs and even in everyday life.”
In other words, sports are a reflection of the inequities in hiring practices throughout modern America. Until those are addressed, and the roots of the permanence of racism in the United States with them, not much is likely to change.