Sports are popularly believed to exist in a cultural, social, and political vacuum and place that is distinct from everyday realities of political and social life. As such, it is presumed that opportunities exist and are available for all groups regardless of socio-cultural backgrounds. This narrative stems from the popular belief that the issues of race are no longer present in sport as in other corporate affairs and also the increasing proportion of high-profile members of the black and minority ethnic groups in contemporary professional sports. However, this narrative represents the contrary to the actual state of racial representation in professional sport. Multiple empirical findings and research works suggest that racial disparity remains a deep-rooted social problem in the sports industry, particularly in the European Union and North America (Cunningham, 2020). Statistics have shown a significantly high racial disparity in professional sports despite the huge strides made in other sectors to eliminate the social problem. This research paper rigorously analyses the available literature and secondary data to establish the contributing factors to the prevailing racial disparities in top professional sports and suggest practicable mitigation strategies.
In the contemporary sporting industry, racial bias remains a significant institutionalized challenge spanning across developed countries, including the United States and the European Union. Racial bias involves an unequal treatment of individuals and groups on the basis of race and ethnic affiliations. A large body of research supports that many men and women from black and ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented in the management positions in the larger corporate world (Rankin-Wright et al., 2016). However, organizations and industries are actively striving to achieve racial diversity for competitive advantage both as a requirement for competitive advantage in the increasingly competitive world and also for regulatory concerns. Astonishingly, despite having a significantly large number of athletes from black and ethnic minorities participating in various sporting activities, sports administrators and leadership remain significantly less diversified.
This fact is supported by numerous audit studies demonstrating consistent findings that white administrators and managers are more likely to hire white candidates into top leadership positions in the white-dominated sporting industry. Also, numerous laboratory experiments undertaken in the past have shown that managers of a particular race have a high propensity to favor applicants from their race into influential positions. This pattern has been observed in the larger corporate industry; however, the existing level of racism in the sports industry exacerbates this negative pattern. Noteworthy, a large body of literature and empirical findings also suggest that there exists a significant gender gap in the sports industry with women mostly excluded in the top management and are mostly preferred for “women’s sports” and have limited positions in “men’s sports.
The mainstream media has greatly contributed to reinforcing gender stereotypes and occupational segregation associated with the sporting industry. Oftentimes, major sporting channels consider male sporting activities as mainstream sports and female sports as other sports. As such, male sports are given exclusively extensive coverage and air time and more rigorous commendations relative to female sports. In promoting racial disparities, the mainstream media identifies athletes and the few top leaders and coaches from black and minority ethnic groups on the basis of their racial affiliation. This approach has been identified as a primary contributor to the existing racial bias in the sporting industry and has been given considerable attention in various academic fields. A large area of research works focuses on understanding the predominant racial stereotypes in professional sports that are largely centered on the potential drivers reinforcing the social problem amid the increasing focus on racial diversity and inclusiveness.
The recent studies focusing on the social problem of racial diversity in professional sports are increasingly taking a more rigorous approach to evaluating the top management levels of major sports leagues and organizations governing bodies. For instance, recent studies have shown that the representation of black and minority ethnic groups in the governance and administrative positions of top European football clubs, the Union of European Football Association (UEFA), Football Association, the English Premier League (EPL) and the National Federations is approximately less than 1% (Rankin-Wright et al., 2016). These findings were exclusively based on top administrative positions of senior governance and coaching positions. The Sports People’s Think Talk has shown that out of 552 coaching positions in 92 professional clubs in England, only 19 senior positions are occupied by members from Black and minority ethnic groups (Rankin-Wright et al., 2016). This astonishing pattern is also reflected in other European Union countries and North America.
Despite the long-standing involvement of athletes from black and ethnic minority groups in professional sports of most western countries, it does not reflect the significantly low ethnic diversity in the coaching positions of professional sports. For example, in 2015, only two professional clubs in the European Union had managers from the black and minority groups; Keith Curle of Carlisle United and Chris Powell of Huddersfield Town (Rankin-Wright et al., 2016). Recent studies have largely drawn from the informed experimental testimonies and stakeholders from across continents as well as appraising the various sporting repositories in efforts to identify and analyze the relatively unshifting and historically embedded practices of racial structures in institutions of sports that limits the inclusion of minorities in senior coaching positions. Taken together, these findings illustrate the prevailing situation reflecting the limited opportunities in leadership and coaching positions in professional sport as well as the overwhelming white dominance of the sporting landscape. It also shows how far the sporting industry is in achieving and sustaining racial diversity.
Studies have shown that the common processes of identification and recruitment of senior coaches and leaders in the sporting arena largely follow a traditional pattern of similarities. The process largely relies on patronage, personal recommendation, and a sponsored mobility of powerful and influential power brokers Who are often members of the white elite social class and reinforced by a well-knit network of the professional football industry. While it may be argued that these practices are sometimes undertaken unconsciously and inadvertently, they nonetheless represent a form of institutionalized racism. According to Rankin-Wright et al. (2016), the conventional practices and processes are underpinned by the centrality, invisibility, and normativity of hegemonic whiteness that is embedded in the organizational cultures of the contemporary sporting institutions. This approach provides an ideal standpoint and understanding of the factors underpinning the prevailing under-representation of the black and minority ethnic groups in professional sports.
In recent decades, significant steps have been made to addressing the existing deep-rooted racial disparities in professional sports. The primary approach taken to transform the pre-existing culture has been through policy interventions enforcing affirmative action. For instance, the UK Coaching Framework was initiated as a true dialogue, a practical reference point, communication, as well as a guide to the development of the UK’s coaching practices. Fundamentally, the UK Coaching Framework was developed to facilitate and effect an equitable, inclusive, and diverse coaching workforce (Rankin-Wright et al., 2016). As such, it was expected that stakeholders in the sports industry would be focused on working towards achieving this set of objectives through the integration of an array of diversity programs.
At the organizational levels, significant steps are evident in some popular sports organizations. For instance, the Football Association (FA) has recently developed a self-supporting element that collects and stores information related to gender, ethnic, and disability background of participants. The United States has also seen significant development towards achieving inclusivity and reducing racial disparity in coaching and management of professional sports. For instance, in 2002, the National Football League (NFL) voluntarily implemented a rather policy dabbed Rooney Rule seeking to enhance inclusivity in professional sport (Hylton, 2016). This measure was in response to years of criticism and threats of legal action over the low representation of the black community in the administrative and coaching positions.
The Rooney rule was typically based on affirmative action seeking to increase the African American involvement in national professional sports. It was instituted largely to mitigate against the prevalent unfair hiring practices seeking to block members of the minority ethnic groups from recruitment into top coaching positions. The policy required that every NFL team interview at least one minority candidate upon the vacancy of a coaching position. Inconsistency in implementing this requirement would attract significant penalties dictated by the NFL constitution and bylaws (Hylton, 2016). Although the policy has achieved significantly little success due to its ambiguity and lack of an effective well-defined policy framework, it marks a significant turning point towards achieving diversity in professional sports.
Nevertheless, whether racism and race have been debated in professional sports literature, the factors underpinning whiteness dominance in the field have been under-theorized and unexamined. The failure of whites to partner across racial divides poses a significant challenge towards achieving the full inclusivity of racial minorities in professional sports. In sports literature, most of the evaluation and analyses of racial exclusivity were primarily devised to reflect the knowledge and dominant epistemologies of white social science. Furthermore, the media has traditionally reinforced occupational segregation and stereotypes, promoting whiteness in the sports arena.
This research paper critically analyses racial disparity and organizational perceptions in sports coaching. It encapsulates major elements of discrimination and stereotypes as well as occupational segregation that is significantly evident in professional sports in the United States and the European Union countries. In doing so, it emphasizes the role of professional sports institutions in perpetuating organizational structures and systematic processes sustaining exclusionary power relations in the sporting industry. Therefore, the fundamental aim of this research paper is to analyze, challenge, and reveal the construction, perpetuation, and reinforcement of whiteness in professional sports. Particularly, it intends to rigorously examine processes existing in the mainstream sporting institutions to contribute to reducing white privilege and dominance in professional coaching.
From the large body of literature and empirical evidence verifying the under-representation of black and minority ethnic groups in professional coaching, we can deduce a number of hypotheses majorly centered on institutionalized stereotypes as well as occupational segregation in the modern sporting industry.
Hypothesis 1: Popular and top sporting institutions are significantly dominated by whites, and particularly top management levels; hence making it difficult for members of the black and minority groups to climb the career ladders in such professional settings.
Hypothesis 2: Qualified members of black and minority ethnic groups are likely to be rated less promotable by white recruiters relative to qualified white applicants.
Hypothesis 3: Unqualified applicants will not be recruited or rated as promotable regardless of race, however, and qualified members of a black and minority ethnic group will be rated lower by white recruiters.
This research study is primarily centered upon the existing literature from secondary sources and particularly the internet. Ideally, the internet is the most effective and readily available avenue with a wide array of sport-related publications and primary data from multiple sources. As such, we integrate data from numerous sports publications relying on primary research methods and data as well as popular academic databases with sport-related materials, including research papers and meta-analyses. The integrated resources are retrieved from appraised publications databases, including Google Scholar, PubMed, and EBSCO. The integrated sources must need a predetermined inclusion strategy requiring that publications must be only from popular and reputable sports websites, or from academic databases as outlined above; the research methods and question must be centered on sports and coaching recruitment, and lastly, they must be centered upon the institutionalized job and occupational segregation and ratio stereotypes popular in the Sporting scenes.
Collectively, research evidence strongly supports that there exists deep-rooted racial discrimination in professional sports in Western countries. In evaluating our sources, we can generate a multi-level explanation and models, including macro-level, meso-level, and micro-level factors Contributing to the institutionalized and systemic racial bias. Macro-level factors integrate environmental factors, while meso-level factors represent group and organization influences, and micro-level factors integrate factors from personal levels. These factors are critically expounded below in detail.
Factors categorized into this level integrate those that operate at the societal level, including discrimination and stereotypes, job and occupational segregation, stakeholders’ expectations, institutional racism, and political climate.
Discrimination and stereotypes: Discrimination exists and presents as a lack of opportunities and access for the members of the black and minority ethnic groups as well as a form of unfair treatment on the basis of demographic factors. Discrimination is fundamentally exhibited as a denial of admittance into an organization or an often legitimized notion that an individual does not deserve rewards, resources, or opportunities of an organization on the basis of ethnic or socioeconomic affiliation. Discrimination often tends to adopt and follow demographic characteristics, including race, age, gender, and sexual orientation. The phenomenon of deep-rooted discrimination is predominant in professional sports perennially dominated by the whites.
On the other hand, stereotypes entail the traditional popular beliefs related to a particular phenomenon in the socio-cultural setting. Stereotypes are inherently descriptive and prescriptive in nature; hence are significantly more likely to influence decision-making processes. Generally, stereotype schemas are inherently a culmination of shared representations, accumulated knowledge, individuals, or group's past experiences as well as associated expectations overlapping to form a systemized mode of thinking and perceptions. There exist a significant number of long-held stereotypes regarding the minority groups, especially in the African American community and their suitability for technical fields.
Research findings suggest that stereotypes towards African Americans are centered around assumptions and evaluations of their temperament, intelligence, and physical abilities (Spaaij et al., 2018). For instance, members of the black and minority ethnic groups are often generally perceived as difficult, troublesome, and lacking social etiquette; qualities that are often used to question their aptitude, attitude, and mental reliability to succeed in technical fields, including the sports profession (Cunningham, 2020). The popularly held beliefs within the popular majority impose significantly limited conditioning of equality, and oftentimes a majority of members of the black and minority ethnic groups are encouraged to adopt more to the cultural and social mores of the dominant majority and shun their cultural identities at the door. Therefore, discrimination and stereotypes present a significant fundamental challenge towards achieving a normalized and ritualized perception of equality in professional sports.
Job and occupational segregation: the existence of the job and occupational segregation and a disproportionate grouping of racial minorities into subordinate positions is well documented in the literature. On the other hand, the white majority are overrepresented in technical professional fields. Data from the US Equal Employment in the Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a wide range of other empirical investigations support this claim (Cunningham, 2020). This phenomenon is also true in the professional sports industry, which continues through record high racial disparity despite the significant progress made in other corporate spheres. Occupational and job segregation can be largely traced to the long-existing racial inequality in terms of unequal access to public services, including quality education, income inequality, and generalized unequal access to social capital. This phenomenon results in inequities in socio-economic status, with the white majority becoming primarily associated with high skills and experience relative to the minorities.
Institutional racism: From the perspective of critical race theory, racial disparity in professional sports is endemic. The existing cultural fabric of the society expressed in crucial socio-economic institutions and greatly affecting the various operations and cultures within the institutions (Spaaij et al., 2018). For instance, the racial discrimination existing within a larger community is reflected in technical institutions with a history of dominance of the popular ethnic groups. This perpetuates an underlying notion that technical positions are for the privileged social classes, and the minorities often deserve subordinate positions. As a result, the white majority enjoy the power privileges and status within these institutions. Therefore, this principle underlying institutional racism is applicable to the professional sports settings with a history of white dominance and the capitalist nature of most sports institutions in the European Union and North America.
Stakeholders’ expectations: stakeholders in the sports industry entail individuals and organizations with interests and stakes in the sporting organizations; hence have a significant level of influence in the decision-making processes in the organizations. They can be external to the organization, including fans, donors, government institutions, and social groups or internal to the organization, including administrators, coaches, and players. Their upper hand in decision-making processes gives them their discretion towards the recruitment processes and specific values, norms, and ideologies regarding the running of the institution (Hextrum, 2019). For instance, decisions focused on hiring coaches, at least in part, integrate the input from critical stakeholders, including financial donors, to identify or approve. In this case, a large number of financial donors come from the white, affluent majority, which may be holding racial stereotypes and ethnic biases, hence promoting racial discrimination.
Political climate: The existing political climate can significantly influence access to socioeconomic opportunities. In this context, policies and political attitudes can significantly influence sport decisions and physical activity outcomes of the general population. Such avenues may include encouraging and incentivizing sports and influencing funding and participation, particularly from their ethnic minorities who may be unwilling to engage in the whites-dominated sports industry (Hextrum, 2019). Also, it may integrate more radical policies effecting affirmative action. As such, the prevailing political climate has the upper hand in influencing participation of the ethnic minorities in professional sports, particularly in seeking coaching positions. The recent approach focusing on curbing employment discrimination in the sports industry and restoring social justice in the EU and North America have largely taken a policy approach and have achieved considerable success.
This level of factors contributing to racial disparity in the sporting industry and includes factors at the inter-group or organizational levels, including the following.
Organizational culture: This involves a pattern of shared basic assumptions that have often walked well enough to be considered acceptable and valid in a given organization setting. Although organizational culture varies between organizations, they are likely to be transferred between organizations as employees shift from one organization to another. Also, various elements of a particular organizational culture have a tendency to persist for many generations within your organization as they are directly passed down generations. Certainly, the traditional organizational culture rooted upon racial biases and traditional stereotypes continues to persist in the sports industry due to minimal interventions effected to alter the pattern of behaviors.
Organizational policies: Oftentimes, individual organizations operate under a specific set of policies, norms, and values. These policies are subsumed under the same umbrella of organizational culture as they are normalized and integrated into the larger culture. These long-standing policies, norms, and values will largely determine the general perception of workplace diversity. One of the most popular organizational policies related to workplace diversity in the sporting industry is the Rooney rule enacted by the National Football League (Hylton, 2016). Due to the long-standing criticism regarding the organization's employment practices that were claimed to exclude members of the black and minority ethnic groups from the organization's workforce, the NFL, in response, enacted the Rooney Rule to curb the negative trend. Organizational policies are often formulated to promote their social good within organizations and to influence organizational culture.
Bias in decision-making: The top-level management usually has the discretion to effect a particular aspect of workplace diversity. In this sense, numerous observation theories have established that managers are more likely to recruit individuals with similar values and beliefs as theirs. Therefore, managers who uphold stereotypical biases and beliefs are more likely to recruit racists than liberals and non-racists. In a setting populated with white supremacists, biased decisions are more likely to be made with regards to the recruitment of senior coaches.
Factors falling under this category include those that are specific to individuals. It includes an individual's basic predisposition to act in a particular way in response to a specific socio-economic setting and macro-factors. These factors recognize the fact that macro and meso-level factors have a significant influence on an individual’s behavior. The micro-level factors include the following.
Self-limiting behaviors: Self-limiting behaviors are an individual’s negative behavior, including lack of aspiration and a generally negative perception and worldview regarding the prevailing socio-economic circumstances. This pattern of behaviors can adversely affect experiences and opportunities of racial minority coaches and managers. Although many of the black and minority ethnic groups are more often likely to experience prejudice, stereotypes, and discriminations on the basis of gender, a number of them are likely to internalize the negative information and impose significant psychological problems on themselves (Morgan et al., 2016). When this occurs, they might withdraw from sports as a profession after coming to terms that they are inferior or because they have a limited chance of success.
Personal identity: An individual's personal identity is basically their individual self and unique characteristics that differentiate them from others in a particular social context. In essence, it entails an individual’s innate personal qualities and emotional intelligence that largely influences their social interaction in a professional setting. Studies have shown that personal identity has far-reaching consequences and impacts on the way an individual sees themselves as well as their worldviews (Morgan et al., 2016). If an individual sees themselves from a racial lens, they are likely to behave in response to the racial environment they were in. For others, when they perceive to be different from their group, they are likely to feel important and associate their outstanding performance with an individual capability rather than racial predispositions.
Access to social capital: Avenues and networks of social relationships are common methods through which individuals find and advance their career opportunities. To a large extent, personal contacts influence their first hiring processes as employment opportunities continue to unilaterally focus on work experiences (Morgan et al., 2016). The white dominance in contemporary professional sports means that more white people are more likely to have resourceful social networks. As such, social capital that is resources embedded in networks has a paramount impact on the labor market outcomes. People from the black and ethnic minority groups are less likely to benefit from social capital networks.
Conclusion and recommendations
In summation, a large body of literature supports that indeed there exists a significant racial disparity in the various avenues of professional sports, and this negative trend has persisted for many years. As companies and sectors in other corporate spheres actively focus on achieving more diversity in workplaces, the sporting industry has demonstrated an unchanging trend and a continued underrepresentation of ethnic minority groups, particularly in professional coaching. Although specific affirmative action through policy implementations have been effected in recent decades, limited success has been achieved due to the deep-rooted nature of racial biases in professional sports. The failure of governing bodies and policymakers to prioritize matters of racial disparity can be partly attributed to their limited understanding of white dominance and the marginalization of the black experience in the sporting world. Sport institutions and influential individuals in the sporting world are ideally in a better position to collaborate to normalize, making visible, and institutionalizing racial inclusivity in professional sports. This effect can be achieved through the formulation of appropriate organizational policies and bylaws governing employment practices across sports organizations.
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