Written by: Dan Lovero
Given the challenges our world currently faces, this is a tough topic to begin writing about. However, it is something that is near and dear to our hearts. Racial inequality has been highlighted, even more, during the Coronavirus pandemic and we want to share about a racial bias that exists in our sports arena; a racial bias in coaching. The key to working towards a world without racism lies in the heart of individuals. Change begins at the individual level and bubbles into collectives.
Recently, we have seen professional athletes and, in some cases, entire teams using their platform to denounce racism by not playing in a game or in practice. In the NBA and WNBA, teams have decided to boycott their playoff game to protest the death of yet another black life. Most notably, the Milwaukee Bucks, and in particular Giannis Antetokounmpo. The MLB cancelled some games over player boycotts and some NFL teams have cancelled practices. The NHL decided to cancel all their games for a day in solidarity with the athletes and other sports leagues. In fact, Forbes reports that over 70% of fans support players speaking out on social justice issues.
Sports have long been associated with white coaches. In fact, if you were to take some time and research sports leadership at the professional level, university and college, and even high school, you will find a lack of diversity. In an article by the CBC in Canada, they found that there is a large gap between players and decision makers.
So what does this mean for us, where we are in our space, and doing what we do everyday? We all have spheres of influence and it is up to us how we use them to make a positive contribution in this world.
Organizations: Let’s talk about the Rooney Rule and attempts at diversity and inclusion. The Rooney Rule was put in place in the NFL after data showed that black head coaches were not being treated equally. This set a requirement that you must interview minorities in a new hiring process. Checking a box and saying you have met criteria is not simply enough at creating a diverse and inclusive organization. Use this opportunity to learn and grow as an organization and hear what others have to say. When hiring for new positions ensure you are stretching your organization and in the end choosing the most qualified candidate available.
Coaches: Think about the way you think about your players. Are you assuming roles and responsibilities on your athletes based on stereotypes? Be careful jumping to conclusions and making assumptions about individuals. In this category we can include parents who play their child over a player that might be better. Instead, get to know your team and organization. Learn the roles your athletes are interested in, invite them to compete so you can put the best lineup on the field. As a coach, you have an amazing opportunity to shape the next generation. Use it as a chance to help them learn and grow in both understanding the dynamics of sports and teams, but also as a human being in a diverse world.
Parents: As a parent you have a role in hiring too. You make a choice where to let your athlete play. Is it an organization that is open to diversity and inclusion or is it a close minded organization that is allowing status quo. By choosing the latter, you allow the status quo to remain in the system. If you choose a diverse organization, you can help morph and change the dynamics of organizations by changing the demand for a diverse system.
Athletes: You can create change! You have the ability to be open minded and be a part of the change you want. There is a great opportunity in learning your sport from another nationality. Let’s take a look at soccer, please allow our stereotypes! If you want to learn footwork and finesse, Brazil has many talented midfielders and forwards who have made it to an elite level using those skill sets. If you want to learn to be a tough defender, where better to look than Italy! They are known for putting together teams with strong defenders that are able to control the game from the backfield. Finally, if you want to learn about a dynamic team system that is about putting together the best 11 players, look at the Dutch. Coined ‘the Dutch System’ the Netherlands have been known to put together a unique formation that creates cohesion among the team to make it work. As a midfield heavy system, there is a lot of movement that needs to be communicated on the fly and that often comes with knowing how to play together. My point being, there is so much to learn from a diverse community
In order for us to begin making movement towards racial equality, we all need to examine our sphere of influence. Change begins with you, it starts with me, it starts with we. Together we can work towards changing the social norms and basic cognitive instincts we have built over many years. This is how, together, we can begin to eliminate systemic racism and shape our future in our sphere of influence.