Monday, January 12, 2009

Black Football Coaches

There was a conversation on the radio last week (I cannot remember which show) about why the NFL has done so much better hiring black head coaches than colleges. One possibility that was put forward is the fact that NFL franchises are forced to do better. In 2003, the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any head coaching vacancy. The speculation was that were the NCAA to adopt such a rule, it would help improve the prospects of black coaches for obtaining college coaching positions.

But while not wanting to minimize the effect of the Rooney Rule--which has probably forced teams to consider exceptional candidates that might not have otherwise garnered a loot--I actually think that explanation for the disparity between the collegiate and professional ranks is somewhat more straightforward.

In the NFL, the only thing that matters is winning. If you are a coach who wins football games and consistently gets to the playoffs, no one cares what you look like. To that extent, life in the NFL is somewhat more immune to the social pressures that keep racist attitudes in place and prevent qualified minorities from advancing as they should.

College coaches, on the other hand, face a host of other pressures and responsibilities. They are not only football men. They are also recruiters, guardians-by-proxy, university ambassadors, and icons of civic communities--all roles that NFL coaches can largely avoid. And because these tasks are much more influenced by the parochial attitudes of various schools, race can count against those who are otherwise very well equipped to win football games.

If this conjecture is right, it might have an interesting implication. I don't typically think that a "just win, baby" attitude is particularly praiseworthy. It paints a reductive picture of human virtue and excellence in a way that I find (morally) troubling. Nevertheless, it may be that just such an attitude has played an important role in bringing about justice and eliminating discrimination--goals that more holistic reflection on the value of all human beings has not been able to obtain.


JAK said...

There is nothing more intellectually stimulating than identification of irony.

Extension of this observation could have practical policy applications. It supports an approach to racial equity that pops up occasionally but, for various reasons, has not been particularly popular -- I think because it does not have a flavor of goodness to it that appeals to a wider audience and adapts well to political speeches.

AJK said...

I'm not sure exactly what this says about human nature--i.e., whether it's good or bad. I'm inclined to think it's some of both. At the very least, I thought it was an interesting conjecture.