It will take a lot of strategy and hard work for sport to truly demonstrate the level playing eld it has long espoused. Morgan Paul, Flickr CC

Making Sports More Sporting

Editors’ note: This version has been updated to correct a number of typos that carried over from an early draft. It now reflects the print version of the articles.

Sports, for me, have been an essentially de-masculinizing experience. As a child soccer prodigy, I scored my first goal by tripping and falling face-first into the mud. The ball bounced off my sodden head and into the limp net. During youth basketball games, my coach would yell, “pass it” whenever the ball inadvertently ended up in my awkward hands. And as a fledging referee in high school, I tried my best to exude authority while my faint whistles of control were ignored by my child charges, bounding up the court in wild, playful packs. Oh, and there were cautionary tales about masculinity and aggression: a coach slamming his promising point-guard son into a high school locker after a disappointing game; a friend punching a wall in frustration during a match and breaking his hand. I broke bones too, mostly by falling over or having others fall onto me (all while my more durable sister played rugby).

To all this, I preferred the sports page of the newspaper in its neat and considered rows of wins and losses, points and scoring averages. From a distance, sports acquired a certain finesse and delicacy. I grew attentive to tactical nuance and collective artistry—a player might not have scored were it not for the phantom run by a tricky teammate. In other words, it was only at a remove, away from the booing and braying, from the sound and fury, from the sweat and spittle, that sports became a game for me.

Yet even as a spectator seeking mindless diversion, I saw how easily sports absorbed the coarser elements of our society, particularly militarism. Outside a San Diego Chargers game, a fan offended by my dun presence offered to buy me “a ticket back to Afghanistan.” Inside the stadium, bald eagles screeched on Jumbotrons and cops, Marines, and firemen circumambulated an oversized American flag that covered the entire field. But such patriotic pomp is less reflective of football itself—concussive and gladiatorial though it may be—than of the purposes it is made to serve. Left to its own devices, it elicits great depths of feeling in participants and onlookers alike.

Athletics’ magnetism may have to do with the way sports balance countervailing values like individualistic expression and selfless teamwork. With the way it showcases the kinetic and muscular wonders of the human body while also teaching us, cruelly at times, about its limits. Though not unburdened by the depressing depredations of racial, gender, and class divisions, sports are a realm where perseverance, discipline, and merit very often do shine through—sometimes defiantly so.

In this respect, the sporting world has become incredibly more inclusive and diverse in recent years: gay players in the hypermasculine sports of football and basketball have come out, albeit often upon retirement, to a fairly warm reception; there are more Black quarterbacks and Black coaches—thanks, in part, to decaying stereotypes about intellectual and athletic prowess and regulations like the Rooney Rule; and Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, broke the gender line in high school and collegiate sports and has helped swell the ranks of female athletes, boosting confidence, health, and educational achievement along the way. In 1971, the year before Title IX was enacted, for example, there were about 310,000 girls and women in America playing high school and college sports; by 2012, there were more than 3,373,000.

There is yet a long road to travel, however, and many an old-boy network left to unravel. For one, racial injustice underlies the big money college sports of basketball and football, writes Marvin Dawkins, where largely African-American athletes go unpaid and risk injury as the coffers of the NCAA fill to bursting. Similarly, Lucia Trimbur avoids the hysteria of March Madness in considering what might be done to inject some sanity into the disputes over compensation, unionization, and amateurism. As in debates over affirmative action, Kevin Hylton describes how the myth of colorblind “merit” enables a backlash to the push for racial equity in English football management. Cheryl Cooky reflects on the 20th anniversary of the WNBA, the media gap, and the “unevenness of social change” in women’s sports. And lastly, Pat Griffin comments approvingly on the growing number of openly LGBT athletes and coaches and considers the challenges ahead.

— Shezad Nadeem


  1. Addressing Racial Injustice In Big-Time College Sports, by Marvin P. Dawkins
  2. Change Doesn’t Necessarily Mean a Paycheck, by Lucia Trimbur
  3. LGBT Inclusion, by Pat Griffin
  4. “This has to change!”, by Cheryl Cooky
  5. Racism and the Rooney Rule, by Kevin Hylton

A sea of University of Wisconsin Badgers fans streams into their home stadium. Richard Hurd, Flickr CC
A sea of University of Wisconsin Badgers fans streams into their home stadium. Richard Hurd, Flickr CC

Addressing Racial Injustice In Big-Time College Sports

by Marvin P. Dawkins

Racial injustice in big-time college sports is a big-time topic in sport and academic circles (see, for example, Patrick Hruby’s April 4, 2016 Vice Sports piece “Four Years a Student-Athlete”). Much of the discussion has centered around whether student-athletes in the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball—where Black athletes are heavily represented—should be paid (thus ending their status as amateurs). The amateurism principle has been defended by proponents who argue, among a list of reasons, that an end to amateurism in college sports would, essentially, render the educational mission pointless in college athletics and would produce more problems than it would resolve. But, as revenues flow to largely White-dominated and controlled organizations and institutions, student-athletes who play big-money sports like football and basketball remain, largely, Black. Modest changes have resulted in improvements in the coverage of costs associated with college attendance for all student-athletes, but the intent of such changes was not to directly address racial injustice. Nor would calls to pay student-athletes in the revenue-generating sports ensure they receive a “share of the pie.” This goes much deeper than class. The racial injustice meted out to student-athletes must be addressed in terms of its connection to racial oppression in America.The racial injustice meted out to student-athletes must be addressed in terms of its connection to racial oppression in America.

Racial injustice in sports is part of the social fabric of American society. In the country’s infancy, slaveholders entertained themselves by pitting slave against slave in brutal boxing matches. Today, mostly Black basketball teams compete for the enjoyment and entertainment of mostly White audiences in many arenas where ticket costs price out many Black spectators. A defining element of systemic racism, according to scholar Joe Feagin, is the phenomenon of Whites’ unjust enrichment from the labors of Blacks as a pattern operating over time. It gets institutionalized and operates as ‘normal.’ Sport, as a social institution, cannot escape the racism embedded in its structure. Therefore, any changes at the institutional level must aim to alter the norms that define the roles of primary actors.

In college sports, the power to define those roles rests with major organizations, such as the NCAA, that control and govern intercollegiate competition. If racial injustice is to be effectively addressed, first, guiding principles must consciously address the racial imbalances arising from systemic racism’s cumulative effects. Then specific proposals must be developed and implemented to remedy the causes and effects of entrenched racism. Consider that large American corporations doing business in apartheid South Africa submitted to guiding principles established by Reverend Leon Sullivan—so should the NCAA and its sister organizations. Reaching a consensus may be especially difficult when it comes to radical changes (for example, reparations for Black student-athletes). But more modest ideas illustrate how racial injustice can be addressed practically. Of these, I believe the redistribution of revenue generated by big-time college sports is foundational.

Among the possibilities I can imagine for reforming the business of college athletics and righting racial wrongs, I suggest a centralized athletics fund that might fund institutional efforts to correct racial and gender imbalances; the establishment of a “Rooney Rule” requiring that at least one qualified Black and at least one qualified female candidate be considered for open positions in top-level coaching and athletics administration; and the provision of grant funds for charities that support families, organizations, and neighborhood groups designated by Black student-athlete recruits. Other creative yet practical possibilities include recruiting major corporate philanthropic groups to match institution-level donations with contributions to these centralized funds and building permanent athletics and education structures in poor Black and other designated minority neighborhoods in college sport championship host cities each year.

My point is that paying Black student-athletes will not solve the entrenched problem of racial injustice. Reform efforts can and should instead be focused on the historical and systemic effects of racism in America. A socially responsible college sports industry, including its major organizations, institutions, and others beneficiaries of its bounty, owes nothing less to the Black student-athletes who help generate its enormous revenues.


Change Doesn’t Necessarily Mean a Paycheck

by Lucia Trimbur

Early this year, when writing an article on sport in the university, I decided to do some calculations. With March Madness around the corner, I wondered: just how much did individual players contribute to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) coffers during the famous basketball tournament? Finding figures was not easy, but Yago Colàs, professor of Comparative Literature and an expert on basketball at the University of Michigan, took up the challenge with me. Using data from 2013, Colàs divided the NCAA’s $769.4 million profit by total player minutes to determine that roughly $30,000 was generated per player minute. Together, five of Colas’s own students played 1,017 minutes over six games accounting for $30,738,733.50. As if these figures weren’t stunning enough, Colas found that 14 athletes played 10% of the tournament’s total minutes, 36 played 25%, and one-third played 75%.

Shabazz Napier set off a media storm when he revealed that, as an NCAA player with basketball juggernaut the University of Connecticut, he went to bed hungry. Matthew D. Britt, Flickr CC
Shabazz Napier set off a media storm when he revealed that, as an NCAA player with basketball juggernaut the University of Connecticut, he went to bed hungry. Matthew D. Britt, Flickr CC

Some may take issue with the accuracy of this calculation, but we can probably agree that the uncompensated labor of big business college athletics is highly problematic. After basketball player Shabazz Napier, who led the University of Connecticut to the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball title, made public that he often went to bed hungry, calls for reform in college sports have grown. Among the loudest in the chorus are advocates for unionization and/or outright compensation for student-athletes. In 2014, for example, football players at Northwestern demanded the right to create a union. Though the National Labor Review Board’s five-member panel in Washington, D.C. ultimately refused to assert jurisdiction in the case, the fact that a regional director had previously ruled players employees with the right to unionize and collectively bargain was significant. At the same time, several anti-trust lawsuits against the NCAA have been winding through the courts, explicitly insisting on providing players with access to profits as well as implicitly challenging scholarship structures, prohibitions on direct compensation, and the lack of long-term access to health insurance.

Discussions about reform mark a crucial shift in the passive acceptance of the current configuration of college athletics. But, in this moment of potential change, we must resist thinking that earning employee status or paying college athletes outright resolves the crises of exploitation. The arrangement of labor and reward is clearly not working, but further entrenching college sports in the world of formal work by intensifying professionalization may actually reinforce the capitalist dynamics responsible for exploitation in the first place. For example, many student-athletes face 50-70 hour workweeks; their ability to enroll in courses or accept internships that conflict with practice and competition schedules is restricted by their need to maintain scholarships. It is unclear whether paying student-athletes directly will increase freedom over their academic and intellectual lives.It is unclear whether paying student-athletes directly will increase freedom over their academic and intellectual lives. One possible consequence of compensation could be more restriction on athletes’ college experiences; if students cannot choose courses while on scholarship, will they be more or less likely to when college sports is structured as wage-earning work?

One way to approach the reform of college athletics is to firmly root it in already-existing social movements dedicated to democratizing and diversifying higher education. With free tuition, a living stipend, and the abolition of student loan debt for all students, what would college athletics look like? Under such conditions of existence, might student-athletes have the autonomy they deserve?

Such social movements are not unprecedented and one undertaken at my own university—The City University of New York (CUNY)—is worth remembering. In 1969, students at City College led, demanded, and won open admissions. Linked with international liberation struggles and national civil-rights efforts, their fight transformed what the university was and meant to New Yorkers. Tens of thousands of students protested, boycotted, and struck alongside supportive high-school students and faculty. Collectively, they forced the Board of Trustees to guarantee admission to CUNY’s senior colleges to any high-school graduate who had earned an 80% grade average or who had graduated in the top 50% of their class. CUNY’s student population doubled within a year and, within seven years, its almost all-White student body diversified dramatically, even as open admissions continued to benefit a number of poor and working-class white students. CUNY became the largest degree-granting institution for black and Puerto Rican students in the country and was responsible for enlarging New York City’s black and brown middle classes. More importantly, CUNY students showed that fighting for a different kind of university is always possible.

Joining social movements demanding free tuition, living stipends for students, and the eradication of student loan debt would remove the financial leverage of athletic scholarships as labor discipline. But it would not prevent other methods of coach, program, and institutional coercion, such as cutting players who exercise their right to take classes and internships that conflict with game and practice times. However, when coupled with the implementation of minimum graduation rates to avoid penalties or the suspension of programs, a notion of amateurism could be reasserted. Amateurism can be an alternative to both athletics as big business and the unionization and anti-trust models that currently threaten consolidating athletes as mere labor power.


LGBT Inclusion

by Pat Griffin

Once upon a time, not too far in the distant past, LGBT inclusion was completely overlooked by sports organizations at every level. This silence was broken occasionally when a well-known individual athlete came out publicly. But then the flurry of media attention quickly died down, and the sports world returned to whispered speculations about athletes’ sexuality and its acceptance of offensive, anti-LGBT epithets as “part of the game.” Efforts to educate sports leaders and athletes about homophobia in sports and the importance of changing the climate of silence and fear were confined to a few individual educators. They worked without significant support from within or outside of the sports world.

This climate of silence and secrecy has dramatically changed in less than a decade. Where silence once predominated, open discussions of how to make sports more welcoming for LGBT people now prevails. LGBT athletes and coaches are coming out to team members, fans, and the general public, and mainstream sports media, augmented by social media, regularly addresses topics related to LGBT athletes and coaches in sports.

These changes are partly due to changes in the larger culture; the visibility of LGBT people in all walks of life plays an important part in shifting public perceptions. The proliferation of LGBT sports advocacy organizations actively working to change culture within sports has also played a significant role. In addition to the National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Project and Outsports.com, whose pioneering advocacy began in the early 2000s, one can fairly quickly point to Athlete Ally, the You Can Play Project, TransAthlete.com, GLSEN’s Changing the Game project, GO! Athletes, the Equality Coaching Alliance, and Br{ache the Silence, all focusing on making sports more inclusive for LGBT participants. Moreover, governing organizations such as the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have adopted policies for the inclusion of transgender athletes, and the NCAA’s Office of Inclusion provides resources on LGBT inclusion for all member schools. Reflecting these changes, influential corporate entities like Nike and Adidas have even taken a proactive stance, advocating for a sports world in which LGBT people can participate openly without the threat of discrimination.

Brazil’s 2016 gold-medal winning Olympian Rafaela Silva credited her judo victory, in part, to her partner, Thamara Cezar. To be “Black-and” means straddling two forms of discrimination on a world stage. Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil, Flickr CC
Brazil’s 2016 gold-medal winning Olympian Rafaela Silva credited her judo victory, in part, to her partner, Thamara Cezar. To be “Black-and” means straddling two forms of discrimination on a world stage. Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil, Flickr CC

The visibility of straight allies among athletes and coaches is another important change that has contributed to a more inclusive climate. As straight athletes speak up in support of LGBT teammates and against the use of anti-LGBT slurs in sports, they help to set a new norm for younger athletes and for adult sports fans.

Conversations with athletes at all levels, from high school to professional sports, reveal a distinct generational shift in perspectives on LGBT issues in general and on LGBT inclusion in sports in particular. Increasing numbers of athletes, regardless of their own gender, are unconcerned about having LGBT coaches or teammates. Only an older generation of coaches, sports administrators, and team owners are now openly discriminatory. On one hand, this trend can be viewed as predictive of a positive future for LGBT inclusion in sports. On the other hand, that older generation holds most positions of power in sports organizations, and their concerns can hold back the positive changes in policy and practice necessary to creating inclusive sports climates.

While it is important to celebrate the progress made in assuring that LGBT athletes and coaches can participate in sports, as open as they choose to be about their sexual orientation and gender identity, all within a climate of respect, we must also acknowledge that there is also still much work to be done.

Many coaches and administrators intend for their teams and athletic programs to be LGBT inclusive, but they still need information about specific best practices to turn their good intentions into actions. They still need help becoming comfortable discussing LGBT issues as a part of their day-to-day conversations with athletes and other coaches. And they still need education and other resources that can help them create respectful climates at all levels of sports.

Recognizing the ways that sexism, racism, and homophobia interact is another challenge. People of color who are LGBT face challenges rooted in racism, and these challenges are compounded by their sexual orientation or gender identity. Taken together, racism and other forms of discrimination are a sort of double whammy, making it more difficult for LGBT people of color in sports to publicly identify themselves. They may also risk alienation from straight teammates or colleagues of color—even those who purport to have no problem playing with an LGBT teammate or under an LGBT coach.

Further, the challenge of homophobia faced by women athletes are different from the challenges faced by gay male athletes and coaches. Being an athlete or coach is still perceived as largely a male identity, and women in sports continue to encounter questions about their sexuality that highlight their intrusion on male turf. Women of all sexual orientations face this sexism, which also helps to explain why straight women allies in sports are often less publicly vocal about LGBT inclusion than their male counterparts.

Finally, transgender athletes face perhaps the most daunting challenges to integration into athletics. Sports competition has traditionally been divided by sex. Transgender athletes who want to participate according to their gender identity rather than the sex they were assigned at birth face ignorance, deeply entrenched prejudice, and sexism. Their obstacles are often compounded by political or religious actors who attempt to legislate transgender access to school bathrooms, locker rooms, and teams based on unfounded fears and stereotypes.

So, yes, we have made significant progress in changing the climate for LGBT sports participants at all levels and within an astonishingly short time. At the same time, there is plenty of work to be done before we can say that all athletes will be judged based on their ability to help their team win and the quality of their leadership skills rather than their sexual orientation or gender identity.


Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton poses with WNBA players Lindsay Whalen, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and Seimone Augustus in 2011. Whalen and Augustus would play alongside Breanna Stewart on the 2016 Olympic gold-winning U.S. women’s basketball team. Office of Governor Mark Dayton
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton poses with WNBA players Lindsay Whalen, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and Seimone Augustus in 2011. Whalen and Augustus would play alongside Breanna Stewart on the 2016 Olympic gold-winning U.S. women’s basketball team. Office of Governor Mark Dayton

“This has to change!”

by Cheryl Cooky

Earlier in July, ESPN held its annual ESPY (Excellence in Sport Performance Yearly) Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Former University of Connecticut (UConn) center, four-time NCAA champion Breanna Stewart received the “Best Female Athlete” award. Stewart was also the number one pick during the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) 2016 draft and is currently in her first season with the Seattle Storm. During her acceptance speech, Stewart thanked ESPN and the media alongside parents, coaches, teammates, and fans. She noted that, during her time playing at UConn, she “received an enormous amount of media attention,” but now that she is playing in the WNBA, she is struck by how professional female athletes do not receive anywhere near the “amount of fame.” The applause was generous when she said, “This has to change!” A not-so-veiled critique of the media, Stewart’s call for equality is a part of a larger dialogue in U.S. women’s sports.

While Stewart praised media coverage of her college career, a longitudinal study I conducted with my colleague Michael Messner at the University of Southern California (USC) showed a stark contrast between the televised news media coverage of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. In the latest iteration of the study, local Los Angeles news affiliates devoted nearly 90 minutes of coverage of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament to just 3.5 minutes on the women’s tournament. ESPN’s Sports Center dedicated nearly 2.5 hours to the men’s tournament to 9.5 minutes on the women’s. Its commentators jokingly implied that, given UConn’s dominance, viewers shouldn’t care or be interested in the upcoming NCAA women’s basketball season—why pay attention if we can simply assume UConn will win the whole thing?

We found similar patterns in coverage of the NBA and WNBA. In fact, whether the NBA was in or out of season, it gained more coverage than the WNBA. For example, in July, when the NBA season had ended and the WNBA season was at its peak, the local Los Angeles affiliates spent almost 49 minutes covering the NBA while devoting only 7 minutes to the WNBA. ESPN’s Sports Center spent just over 40 minutes on the NBA and only 6 minutes on the WNBA.

The overall dearth of coverage of women’s sports (3.2% on the local affiliates and 2.0% on Sports Center) was accompanied by striking differences in the quality of production, commentary, and delivery. On the local Los Angeles affiliates, segments about USC and Cal State Northridge barely nudged the women’s tournament into the broadcast. On Monday March 17, a primetime local news segment sandwiched a story about USC’s women’s tournament appearance between two stories about men’s sport. On the front end, a 28-second segment about the grandson of St. Joseph’s men’s basketball coach, Phil Martelli, included footage and commentary that described the 4-year old grandson as a “mini-Martelli,” “adorable” for imitating his grandfather’s coaching gestures in the stands while dressed in a matching sport coat and tie. In contrast, the story on the women’s tournament was a 7-second segment: “Sticking with USC, congratulations to the Women of Troy who learned tonight they are a ninth seed in the women’s basketball tournament. They’ll play St. John’s in the first round.” This bland coverage was followed by an elaborate 78-second segment on USC football’s spring training practice, the relationship between the head coach and one of the incoming assistant coaches, and interviews and practice footage.

This particular segment illustrated two thematic patterns we uncovered: First, televised news broadcasts devoted a more significant portion of their “March Madness” coverage to a soft news story about men’s basketball, specifically about the coach of a Philadelphia team, than to a local Division 1 women’s team that had made the NCAA tournament. Second, the men’s “Big Three” sports (men’s football, basketball, and baseball) received more coverage and higher quality coverage than women’s sports, even though a successful local team was competing in the women’s NCAA tournament.

Moreover, broadcasters’ commentary illustrated how TV segments build excitement for men’s sports. Most segments on women’s sports were delivered in a bland monotone, but newscasters came alive in segments on men’s sports. Suddenly there were exciting descriptors delivered in a rapid-fire, amplified voice. Men’s sports events were “a thriller!,” or “a battle!” where male athletes “threw down the dunk!”, “ripped a double!”, were “going full throttle” and “destroying” the opponent. Male athletes and their performances were “sensational!”, “picture perfect!”, “incredible!”, “unbelievable!,” and “spectacular!”

In terms of quality of production, we were encouraged to find that segments on the WNBA included several lengthy stories with high quality production values—a welcome change from our previous findings—but these stories often veered into discussions of motherhood. During a segment featuring Los Angeles Sparks forward/center Candace Parker, who had received the WNBA’s MVP award, a Sports Center commentator asked the star player, “How do you balance being the centerpiece of a franchise with being a centerpiece of a little girl’s life as well?” It is difficult to imagine a sports anchor or journalist questioning a prominent male athlete—say, a LeBron James or Derek Jeter—in the same way. Segments on former Sparks center and WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie’s induction into the Hall of Fame on the local affiliates were similarly well produced, including highlights from some of Leslie’s most memorable plays, yet the commentary focused on her role as a mother and an athlete.

#CoverTheAthlete recently produced a video that asks the viewer, what if journalists treated male athletes like female athletes? While the video is a fictional re-creation of the types of questions that are asked of female athletes, it is powerful in flipping the script to expose the sexism at the core of sports media coverage.

Stewart may have received more media coverage on the local news affiliates in Storrs, CT than we found in our sample on ESPN and the Los Angeles affiliates. Indeed, other research has found that women’s sports do receive more coverage in such smaller sports markets. Still, the news media could certainly do more to cover women’s sports and achievements within them. Stewart’s call for equality is one Messner and I echo and support. The question is how.

It all begins with the mainstream news media recognizing the existing interest in women’s sports. Although some call for more women editors, journalists, reporters, and commentators, we also need all reporters and producers to take the lead in increasing the amount of coverage devoted to women’s sports and to produce stories with the same quality, production values, and appreciation of athletics as in men’s coverage. I agree with Breanna Stewart: This has to change.


Racism and the Rooney Rule

by Kevin Hylton

“Race” directly and indirectly affects the way we all experience football as spectators, players, officials. Racism in sport, like racism in society, is deeply embedded, and it is incumbent on us all to disrupt it for the good of the game.

For a small and fortunate minority, football—by which I, as a UK scholar, mean soccer—is a vehicle for social mobility and, in some cases, celebrity. Black players in professional UK football leagues have been through significant periods of racist exclusions and acceptance. Many would argue that the latter is still inconsistent and conditional upon ethnicity and which team or nation they represent. Others espouse the popular view that racism is much less problematic than it used to be and that football’s meritocracy helps find and promote the best players from the grassroots to the global stage. Yet when the issue of the dearth of Black managers becomes the subject of conversation, there is a distinct lack of clarity. Why do so few Black players progress into substantive leadership roles after their playing careers end? The League Managers Association believes that, to improve the potential for Black managers to match their numbers as players, they must counter institutional racism and stereotypes about Black managers, the lack of transparency in recruitment processes, and “old boy” networks. Approximately 25% of footballers since 1992-3 have been Black and minority ethnic yet only 4.4% have taken on leadership roles as coaches or managers in the profession. In 2014, there were only two Black managers in English football. Professional Football Association Chief Executive Gordon Taylor said there was a “hidden resistance” to hiring Black managers and that steps needed to be taken to improve. Even when potential Black managers have been qualified they have still been overlooked for interviews at professional clubs. This hints at the complexities of racism as individual and institutional manifestations lead to a variety of incomprehensible outcomes. If the meritocratic mantra is that the best person will always get the job, it seems stereotypes of intellect and physicality constrain opportunities for Black players, following them into and even keeping them out of management application processes. As Sue Bridgewater writes, “Whilst considerable progress has been made in eradicating racism from football’s terraces, there is concern football management may be a new glass ceiling which must be broken through.”

One of the highest profile initiatives to capture the imagination is the “Rooney Rule,” which has shown positive results in the United States’ National Football League (NFL). By requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs, the Rule is intended to enhance diversity and equal opportunities in senior hiring practices. The English Football League (EFL) plans to implement the Rooney Rule in its 2016-17 season, having established that quotas and unlawful “positive discrimination” will not be allowed in its enforcement. And yet, experienced professionals still misunderstand the nature of the Rooney Rule, mistaking it for a quota system. For example, multiple Champions League winning manager, Jose Mourinho argues that there is no need for the Rooney Rule, “merit” is more important than “the colour of skin.” Sure, in an ideal world. But Mourinho’s position invalidates experiences of racism, “hidden resistance” to hiring Black managers, and the available statistics. When he says “There is no racism in football. If you are good, you are good. If you are good, you get the job,” Mourinho ignores the institutionalized racism in football even he has witnessed on the pitch. Keith Curle, one of the few Black managers to beat the odds, agrees with Mourinho. When it comes to the ideal of Black player progression into management, football managers who have uncritically benefited from traditional hiring practices are not necessarily the most authoritative starting points for action.

By adopting the position that “merit” might be ignored, opponents of the Rooney Rule form a backlash to the pursuit of racial equality. That is, focusing on the most qualified person rising to the top only seems to become dominant rhetoric when the traditional, “old boy” networks are threatened. The use of merit as the only criteria for inclusion into football’s leadership hierarchy can ignore the historical exclusion of Black individuals and their support networks in the past, as well as how the past has affected the merit people in the pipeline can display—if Black players aren’t promoted into management, they cannot get management experience and be chosen for higher level jobs. Sommerland describes this as the “social magic” of merit, suggesting some form of personal and professional neutrality, even when the opposite is more likely given previous conscious or unconscious biases. I propose that the Rooney Rule goes some way to address “unconscious” or implicit biases. In fact, unconscious bias is the same as a lack of transparency. Challenging the racism of recruitment to leadership roles by forcing clubs to interview a Black candidate when appointing to a substantive post is an important and public step. Whether it will go far enough to combat the racial biases of influential decision-makers and hiring committees, of course, remains to be seen.

Comments 1

Kevin Coleman

October 1, 2016

Professor Hylton makes valid and correct points but I feel there is one more significant point being omitted. People outside of the equality arena, especially from within football use the term BAME and Black interchangably. BAME in essence is anyone non-white English, and in England, by far the largest diverse communities are Asian, making up close to 8% of the population. These communities are significantly more under-represented than any other in terms of playing, coaching, managing and refereeing. In the pro game it is estimated around 40 times under-represented when at the same time Sport England statistics indicate Asian males are the most likely social group to play the game. Black professional players by contrast are over represented per capita. Its interesting that some of the more well known public commentators on this issue can be so oblivious to this fact, showing possibly their own ignorance and their personal agenda is possibly their most motivating factor, in being an ex professional themselves.


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