Researchers find racial bias in promotions of NFL coaches

"Even when we take two guys who are in the same position and performing equally well, we see this racial advantage," said researcher Chris Rider.
By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 21, 2016 at 10:40 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The NFL has taken steps in recent years to encourage diversity on coaching staffs in the front office, but black coaches are still being passed over for their white peers.

Researchers at George Washington University found white position coaches in the NFL were twice as likely to promoted to a coordinator position than their black counterparts. The skin color advantage was consistent across the board, regardless of a coach's age, experience or career performance.

The NFL's "Rooney Rule," which went to effect in 2003, requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions and senior front office positions. This requirement doesn't apply to position coaches and coordinators.

But researchers say the racial disparity farther down the coaching depth chart has a direct effect on who can ascend the ranks and into a head coaching position. Roughly 70 percent of head coaching vacancies in the NFL are filled by promoting offensive or defensive coordinators, putting black coaches at a significant disadvantage.

"It's not necessarily a requirement [to be a coordinator first]," study co-author Chris Rider, an assistant professor of strategy at Georgetown, said in a press release. "However, it is the most common stepping stone. If you don't get that coordinator experience your chances of becoming a head coach are drastically reduced."

Researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing the hiring decisions of all 32 NFL teams and plotting the careers of more than 1,200 NFL coaches between 1985 and 2012. Their analysis included controls for a variety of mitigating factors, including experience and on-the-field results.

"Our analysis allows us to rule out that the disparity is simply attributable to your first position or current position," Rider said. "Even when we take two guys who are in the same position and performing equally well, we see this racial advantage."

Ride says the sample size is too small to determine whether or not the Rooney Rule is working to address racial disparity at the top. But if it is, progress is clearly very slow.

There are currently five African American head coaches in the NFL, while African Americans make up nearly a third of coaching staffs -- making the NFL more diverse than corporate America -- though nearly two-thirds of all NFL players are black.

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