Black Coaches: Still Not in the Game

As America begins to emerge from the shock and horror following the September 11 attacks, sports fans are now going back to the games and rooting for their favorite baseball and football teams as a release.

On the playing field fans will see a diverse array of athletes of various races and hues. Unfortunately, this diversity does not transfer over to the sidelines and the coaching staffs at America's institutions of higher learning.

At colleges and universities that often shout the mantra of "diversity," diverse is the last way to describe the hiring practices of football coaches. According to the just released 2001 Racial and Gender Report Card, published by Northeastern University's Center for Sport in Society, there are just five black head coaches out of 117 at Division I schools.

These abysmally low numbers are a shame when you consider that black athletes make up 25.5 percent of all of the male student athletes and 10.7 percent of the female student athletes in Division I sports. They make up 55.9 percent of male players in college basketball, 31.4 percent of the women in college basketball and 46.4 percent of the players in college football.

But blacks make up just 21.6 percent of the coaches in college basketball and a paltry 4.7 percent of the head football coaches. Kevin Matthews, the report's research director, said the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, must work to improve the abysmally low numbers.

"We used to think that with affirmative action policies in place, sports in higher education would be more integrated," said Matthews. "That is an assumption that is misplaced."

At a time when Blacks seem to be making strides in many professional sports -- there are 20 head coaches or managers of color in the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball, most of whom are black, a 45 percent increase over the previous year -- college football provides the fewest opportunities for blacks in coaching and at management-level positions.

There are various reasons for this, beginning with racism. Floyd A. Keith, the executive director of the Black Coaches Association, said that the under-representation of blacks in coaching positions reflected the fact that athletic directors and college presidents, the vast majority of whom are white, were still uncomfortable with recruiting and interviewing black prospective coaches.

"One of the failures of the system has been the [lack of] recognition of the minorities that are qualified to have these positions," said Keith. "One of the things that you always hear from athletic directors and college presidents is that, 'I would have certainly considered a minority candidate if I would have known any.'"

Oftentimes the hiring criteria are expressed in a fashion that eliminates blacks from the onset, says Keith, citing job announcements specifying that applicants should have Division I head coaching experience.

"If the job is looking for previous experience head coaching at a Division I level, then you are currently only talking about the five existing [black] coaches," said Keith.

The mumbo jumbo about the "proper candidate" that Athletic Directors and University Presidents spout is often reinforced by big money alumni and donors who, according to John Parker, head football coach and director of football operations at Cheyney University, the oldest black university in the country, control who gets hired.

"At a lot of these schools, the alumni and boosters are controlling the funds for these programs," said Parker. "If you control the money you have major influence on those decisions. Division I football is a big money business and when you disrupt people's comfort zones you disrupt people's money flows."

Kevin Matthews of the Center for Sport in Society has called for the NCAA to make the hiring of black coaches and athletic directors a priority, urging it to form a task force or commission to investigate the problem and to "put a more proactive policy in place."

Others have called on government intervention to make sure the hiring process is fair and even-handed at state colleges and universities that receive public funds.

"Schools should be held accountable in the hiring process to make sure that the hiring process is a fair process," said Parker.

The Center for the Study of Sport in Society has been issuing racial report cards for professional sports the past several years, and while not perfect, there has been some improvement. The shaming of professional sports has contributed to this. The spotlight of shame should now be shown towards institutions that often preach diversity, but who rarely practice it in meaning.

Matthews agrees, but notes that nothing will change without some new approaches. "When you have a system of inequity you have to think in a creative way, and think out of the box to challenge the problem."

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