The AAF is Outpacing the NFL in Female and Black Coaches

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.

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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

Preventing Groupthink

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.

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1 Comment

  1. here we go again women before men why do we feel such a need to hire women when we we fire black coaches after one or two seasons and white coaches can loos for three years and up. I believe that it is a shame that here again a black man has to stand behind a woman for a job. In basketball the coach from San Antonio hired a woman so you mean to tell me she was the best person for the job or was she the best women for the job. Now you are bringing it to football where they are firing more black coaches than they are hiring, what a mess. we are so afraid to be honest about things. Apparently the feeling in sports is get the black men for his athleticism but don’t dare use him for his intellectual ability. The head coach the Patriots did a very poor job in cleveland yet he was able to get another job the very next year.
    If the truth be told those in power could less about men of color making a fair income coaching, maybe it is because they are outspoken and don’t know how to stay in the place they feel we should be in. How are going to compare yourself with the AAF when they are getting your leftovers. I am glad to see that there are some men of color getting what they deserve a opportunity to do what they like and good paycheck at the same time. That should be happening in the NFL or am I just wrong? Remember this the NFL fired five head coaches of color this year and hired ONE. Yet the Dolphins head coach who won very few games was fired and was hired a few weeks later by the jets; think about that.

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