In a recent article on collegiate sports coaching, Kassandra Ramsey alerted us to the declining rate of female coaches in Division One basketball. Men substantially overshadow women in coaching. Unfortunately, it is much worse in professional sports. Additionally, head coaching positions are majority white-male dominated. In the NFL, this lack of divergence from the mean is exemplified. Men are coaches. White men are head coaches. But, in the Alliance of American Football (AAF), they are taking strong actions towards a more diverse and entertaining game. The NFL should start taking notes
The NFL, Unlike the AAF, Lacks Diversity
Few Black Coaches
It would not be a shock to most to hear that 70-percent of NFL players are black. However, after the annual offseason purge, only two black head coaches remain in the NFL (Mike Tomlin and Anthony Lynn). In a sport where the majority of players are black, the leaders of those players are predominantly white. This is despite efforts of theBill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, introduced in 1987.
For those unfamiliar with this fellowship, it was “Designed as a vocational tool to increase the number of full-time NFL minority coaches, all 32 NFL clubs participate each year. Specific aspects of the program — including hiring, compensation and coaching duties — are administered on a club-by-club basis. The NFL does not mandate any elements of the fellowship to the clubs, but it recommends several best practices, including:
- Hiring participants for the duration of training camp, including all pre-season games.
- Encouraging clubs to hire a minimum of four participants, with at least two of them having an offensive coaching background.
- Mentoring participants in the form of continuing and constructive feedback regarding their work while with the club.”
Over 30 years later, in addition to the Rooney Rule (adopted in 2003), head coaches of color are still few and far apart.
Fewer Female Coaches
The lack of female coaching the professional sports is also indicative of this resistance to change. According to a 2018 statistic of all of the major league sports and their affiliates (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS, and MLB) there were only six female coaches. So only 0.23-percent of each of the league’s coaches were female. In the NFL’s entire history, only one female has ever been made a full-time coach (Katie Sowers of the San Francisco 49ers). These low percentages of female and black representation in the NFL are appalling.
The AAF is Emerging with Bold Choices
Breaking free from traditional professional sports monotony is the AAF. Just like the AAF is changing the game of football with “flow friendly” rules and innovation, the league is also inviting more diversity into leadership positions. The AAF, made up of 8 football clubs, currently has three black head coaches, one black team president, and three female coaches. Former NFL players like Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, and Michael Vick also have found themselves in player-development positions in the AAF. Whether black, white, male, female, asian, or pacific islander, the AAF is making room for diverse coaching and management.
But why does diversity matter? Its importance lies in three areas: Groupthink, Audience and Talent
Diversity can help NFL teams avoid groupthink. When you have more opportunities for disagreements, open thought processes, and discourse, creativity and success can be found. Groupthink is a dangerous trap to fall into. It causes coaches, management and even players to make decisions out of “safety” and fear. Punting on fourth down, drafting a running back in the first round, signing a veteran quarterback or hiring a veteran coach have all been traditionally seen as risk averse. But more recently, football analytics have shown these to be misallocation of resources and mathematics. Finding this success came about from hiring economic majors and implementing their ideas. Going against the grain can win championships.
Cultivating a Larger Talent Pool and Audience
Remember, women only make up 0.23-percent of all coaching positions in major league sports. But, women make up half of the US population. Half! Professional sports are overlooking half of all potential coaches. The next Bill Belichick, Sean McVay or Doug Peterson could be a woman, but the NFL doesn’t appear to be searching. As well, the number of female fantasy football players, analysts, and overall football fans are increasing to compete with male viewership. That is without female representation in the sport. Hiring more women to full-time positions would assumedly increase a pull of female viewers. Young girls would be growing up knowing that they could start playing, watching and studying football as a viable career path. Moreover, the addition of minority coaching talents would further these causes.
Change is Good
The NFL is one of America’s fondest and oldest sports, surrounded by history and tradition. But with growing competition of other sports (and even gaming) venues, the NFL is likely to lose its grasp on America. But, if the NFL can take what the AAF is doing and apply that its own league, it will flourish. Embrace the change. Create a larger audience. The AAF is taking substantial steps to earn viewers and find open talent pools. While the AAF may become a player-development league and talent pool for the NFL, they should also consider it a role-model for progress and innovation.