College Sports: Why Few Black Coaches Again This Season?

Have you ever wondered to yourself while watching a college football game on a Saturday afternoon why there are so many (often times a majority) black players on the field, but an overwhelming majority of fans and coaches are white? If you have not, rest assured you are not alone. The black athlete and everything else white seems to be the norm. The problem, however, is this racial standard continues to hamper blacks’ progression throughout US society, and is even more elucidated in the very institution one would expect the most progress to be made – sport.

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When considering the historical and systemic nature of racism in the US (see Feagin, 2006), much more attention has been placed on economic, political, educational, and legal institutions. The institution of sport, however, tends to be overlooked. Perhaps this is the case because of its egalitarian façade that gets displayed to the public. What is not being shown is the real racial inequality that has and continues to exist in the leadership structure of sport. Most prominent is the multi-billion dollar industry of NCAA Division I collegiate athletics. For instance, according to Lapchick, Hoff, and Kaiser’s (2011) latest Racial and Gender Report Card for college athletics, black male student-athletes are overly represented (60.9% and 45.8%) in the two most revenue generating sports (basketball and football, respectively); however, black head coaches for men’s basketball and football are represented at 21% and 5.1%, respectively, and assistant coaches at 39.5% and 17.6%, respectively. Even worse, whites dominate (81.8%) the athletic director role as well. Considering sport represents a microcosm of society, reflecting its ideals, hierarchies, and problems (see Edwards, 1973; Eitzen & Sage, 1997; Sage, 1998), it is not surprising to see whites in a position that guarantees them the most abundant financial rewards. As a result of this white hierarchy, though, blacks wishing to enter the coaching profession continue to face racial barriers.

Hawkins (2001) argues the power structure of NCAA Division I predominantly white institutions of higher education (PWIHE) “operate as colonizers who prey on the athletic prowess of young black males, recruit them from black communities, exploit their athletic talents, and discard them once they are injured or their eligibility is exhausted” (p. 1). This colonial model seems fitting, given several researchers (e.g., Eitzen, 2000; Hawkins, 2001; Lapchick, 2003) have found that black student-athletes on PWIHE campuses are entrenched in a system that exploits them politically, economically, and racially. For those black student-athletes who do survive the abuse, they continue to find their professional outlook limited.

The notion of stacking in sport, or positioning of players to central or non-central positions on the field based on race and/or ethnicity, often surfaces as an explanation as to how whites carry on their dominance in sport leadership. Whites have traditionally placed themselves in more central positions, positions associated with greater interaction, leadership, and intelligence; while blacks have been situated in more peripheral positions, which are linked to less leadership, minimal interaction, and greater athletic ability. Brooks and Althouse (2000) found there to be a correlation between those higher up in the leadership ranks (e.g., head coach, athletic director) with past playing position. In particular, prestigious sport jobs are generally acquired by those who have played more central positions (e.g., quarterback in football, pitcher in baseball); thus, because blacks more often are relegated to peripheral positions (e.g., wide-receiver in football, outfield in baseball), blacks are often framed as less qualified to enter leadership positions beyond the playing field.

Further explanations (e.g., Sagas & Cunningham, 2005; Sartore & Cunningham, 2006) demonstrate blacks’ promotional and/or hiring coaching opportunities are thwarted due to the tendency of white decision-makers choosing white candidates (qualified and unqualified) over qualified blacks. This struggle for racial equality is more troubling given those with the final hiring decision (i.e., athletic director) perceive employment opportunities to be equal for blacks (Tabron, 2004), which ultimately trickles down to those wishing to enter the coaching profession (e.g., black student-athletes), since they perceive they will have to contend with racial inequality prior to and once in the profession (e.g., Cunningham & Singer; Kamphoff & Gill, 2008). This racist sporting reality, similar to wider US society, illustrates blacks have a long way to go for racial justice.

~This still timely analysis was posted previously here by Michael R. Regan, Jr., Texas A&M University


  1. Earl Smith

    Seems I commented on this post previously? The author makes the case for racism in sports especially at the intercollegiate level. Fine. Yet, in the post it is stated that there are a lot of African American athletes and few coaches (and other administrators). Fine. But in the contemporary SportsWorld and at the intercollegiate level in football specifically all the teams are primarily African American and a few of the head coaches too. This is t rue even of the Deep South teams like Alabama, Mississippi State etc. My concern here is that the author makes an old argument when it is stated that the administrators come from the playing ranks. This is no longer the case and I demonstrate this in Race, Sport and the American Dream (2014). I also want to make the case that STACKING in team sports almost does not exist any longer (see, Earl Smith, 1989,“Race, Position Segregation and Salary Equity in Professional
    Baseball.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Vol. 13, No. 2,
    Pp. 92-110)
    If anything, there is a need to go back and look at the stacking research to see how it unravelled and both theoretical & methodologically how that argument is to be made today. Thank you.

    • Let me start off by stating that I did not make the argument that stacking is the reasoning behind the underrepresentation of black coaches and other leaders in intercollegiate sport. I simply made the claim that several authors have shown various patterns and reasoning behind the underrepresentation, and stacking was one of them. For example, in my original post I highlighted how Hawkins (2001) utilized the colonial model to show the economic, political, and racial exploitation black student-athletes have to endure, which serves a precursor to the next level of their athletic careers (i.e., racial inequality at the coaching ranks; others (e.g., Sagas & Cunningham, 2005; Sartore & Cunningham, 2006) have shown that whites tend to hire whites over blacks, even when blacks are qualified to fill the head coaching position; and the stacking argument has been shown by others (i.e., Brooks & Althouse, 2000) as an alternative perspective, since their finding showed a correlation with past playing position and the higher athletic leadership ranks.
      With some progress blacks have made in sport (as athletes and leadership), it is impossible to say that one perspective is the only perspective to consider when discussing systemic racism. Systemic racism, in the very nature of its name and definition, means that racism is systemic; racial discrimination has existed from past-to-present, it occurs in various ways and at various levels, and when blacks begin to show advancement by crossing barriers, whites find new ways to impose their numerical, political and economic domination. Although the stacking argument cannot explain all circumstances, recent empirical research in the collegiate athletic setting continues to show that blacks are consistently directed into positions that have minimal chance of leading to a head coach job (e.g. Bopp & Sagas, 2012; Bozeman & Faye, 2013).
      These various mechanisms that continue to take place to keep blacks “in their place” has been shown in Regan, Carter-Francique, and Feagin (2014), where the authors gathered all the research discussing the underrepresentation of black coaches in intercollegiate athletics to show how the six primary tenets of systemic racism theory (Feagin, 2006) appropriately fit the arguments made within the scholarship. Additionally, I have two publications “in press” that further demonstrate the existence of systemic racism. My first article shows that although black and white head coaches exhibited no statistical difference in various coaching performance categories over the course of their previous tenures, black coaches were terminated sooner than white coaches and replaced by similarly performing white coaches. This same phenomenon has been shown to take place in the NFL as well (see Madden, 2004). Because some researchers have suggested that one reason for the underrepresentation of black collegiate head coaches is because of the lack of diversity on hiring committees, my second article experimentally examines how a mock hiring committee would differentially select coaches based on the coaches race and the race of committee members; findings support the notion of racialized hiring practices on committees. So, as mentioned, there is not one explanation for racial inequality in sport. But what is consistent is systemic racism is alive.


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