Study on racial diversity among NFL coaches generates national publicity

 

IMG_1925_editAn Iowa State University College of Business professor is part of a study that is getting national attention.

 

Andreas Schwab, Associate Professor and Dean’s Faculty Fellow in Management, is a co-author in a study on racial diversity among National Football League (NFL) Coaches.

 

The study, released in January by professors from Georgetown, George Washington, Emory and Iowa State universities, looks at the careers of more than 1,200 NFL coaches, from 1985 to 2012, and found that coaches consistently moved faster up the ranks than their black counterparts.  On-field game statistics are used to rule out differences in coaching performance as alternative explanations. Overall, white coaches remain about twice as likely to become offensive or defensive coordinators or quarterback coaches.

 

 

“Black coaches are less likely to be promoted than white ones, independent of their first position, their current position, their employer, their prior experience, their education and their age,” the authors wrote in the paper, titled Racial Disparity in Leadership: Performance-Reward Bias in Promotions of National Football League Coaches.

 

Before the 2016 Super Bowl, New York Times, the Huffington Post, CBS and ESPN interviewed the research team and published some of the study’s key findings.

 

“The topic obviously touched a nerve,” Schwab said. “I’ve never conducted research that received such broad attention.”  

 

In 2003, the NFL created The Rooney Rule, which requires every team to interview a minority candidate for a head coaching vacancy. The rule was named after the chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney, who was the chairman of the league’s diversity committee. It was created after the firing of two black head coaches in 2002, Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay and Dennis Green in Minnesota, prompted an uproar.

 

The research team suggests stagnant numbers of black head coaches in the NFL are the results of shortfalls in promoting minority coaches into the specific high-level coaching positions considered eligible for promotion to head coach. This deficit limits the number of minority coaches considered eligible for the ultimate top job. Consequently, The Rooney Rule and similar strategies focused only on promotion into top-jobs are not sufficient.

 

“Our research team was very careful to point out that the NFL is trying to do something about this,” Schwab said. “The negative attention in the media is a little unfair.” 

 

His reasons for saying that are simple.

 

The NFL has demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing racial disparity in the past, as the Rooney rule indicates. As a result the percentage of minority NFL coaches at all levels has increased over time. “Our research identifies remaining disparities,” Schwab said. “These disparities should trigger additional efforts to identify underlying processes and still hidden causes.”

 

In the end, Schwab said, the issues of racial bias are bigger than the NFL. “They are issues we face as a society in general. Academic research shows that racial biases are a complex social challenge which we still only partially understand.”

 

Spearheading efforts by the NFL and the continuing research efforts promise important lessons for other organizations and society in general on how to better address issues of racial diversity.

 

Read the full research paper online at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2710398.