Race in football: Brink doesn't mince words

WASHINGTON STATE quarterback Alex Brink has been at center stage of an American passion for four seasons. And he has some questions about the sport he loves. Why, for instance, when 50 percent of Division I-A players are African-American, are only 4 percent of the head coaches and 10 percent of the offensive and defensive coordinators black?

Why, he wonders, are black quarterbacks –- the few that there are –- described in terms of their athleticism while white quarterbacks are portrayed as students of the game?

Alex Brink is more than Xs and Os. He's an honor student who asks penetrating questions and then digs for the answers. And keeps digging –- to the tune of nearly three pages worth of bibliography.

Last spring the record-breaking fifth-year senior from Eugene completed his honors thesis in sports management. Months of research culminated in a 31-page report titled, "Covert Racism: Parallels in leadership positions in Division I-A football and corporate America."

A copy is available for public reading at WSU's Honors College.

In typical Brink style, he understates his work, saying yesterday that he focused on a narrow slice of a broad topic "so I don't want people to think this is some sort of end all work about racism."

Duly noted.

Narrow, yes.

Interesting, absolutely.

"People must begin to understand why there is such a large disparity between Whites and Blacks in leadership positions within sport and business so that they can begin to understand the ideas about race that have been fostered within our culture," Brink writes.

College football and the halls of corporate power, he says, are a microcosm of the veiled racism that society as a whole doesn't want to acknowledge.

His findings are straight forward: Despite the belief by Whites that society is colorblind, a racism that is covert and subtle is systematically depriving Blacks of leadership positions. Brink emphasizes that the issue is not one of overt racism, but an "array of subtle barriers and burdens, mostly unintentional."

Brink's analysis focuses on the split of black and white head football coaches at NCAA Division I-A schools and the CEOs of Fortune 100 companies.

At the time of the research –- fall 2006 –- there were five black head coaches at the 119 D-IA schools and four CEOs at the 100 biggest companies.

ONE OF THE PRIMARY REASONS for the inequality –- backed by considerable evidence –- is that the "good old boys," perhaps unconsciously, tend to hire and promote people who remind them of themselves, Brink writes.

He wonders if administrators fear that a black head coach –- a key member of every school's PR and fundraising efforts –- can connect with predominantly white alumni bases.

Moreover, there's the fairness factor. History shows that when black head coaches are fired they rarely get "recycled" into other head jobs the way so many fired white coaches are, Brink says. Of the five black coaches at the time of Brink's research window, all but Tyrone Willingham were in their first tenure as a head coach.

Brink also noted that at the end of last season, there were 21 college head coaching vacancies. Of those, only one (at Miami) was filled with an African American.

"Despite the growing number of African American players there seems to be no real effort to alter the unchanging pattern," Brink notes. He says the NCAA could learn something from the NFL where the Rooney Rule, which mandates that the hiring process include at least one interview with a black candidate, has created more opportunities for African American coaches.

STEREOTYPING ATHLETES also plays a part in the coaching inequality, Brink writes. The proverbial deck is stacked when the pool from which the coaching ranks are stocked –- former players –- are still in uniform, he writes.

Black athletes are over-represented at positions such as receiver and defensive back, while White athletes dominate the two positions –- quarterback and center –- most associated with mental facility and leadership.

Fast forward through the playing career and on into a person's coaching career and what you find is that Blacks often are pigeon-holed coaching receivers, defensive backs and running backs, while Whites eventually elevate to the two jobs most vital to being considered for a head coaching position: offensive and defensive coordinator. Ninety percent of Division I-A coordinators are white, Brinks explains, thus putting black assistants on the periphery -– and therefore not in the pipeline -- of decision making and leadership.

To illustrate how far from equality college football is, Brink points to the news frenzy created whenever a Black man is named a head coach. If it wasn't so rare, it wouldn't be a big deal.

Such celebratory coverage of these rare hires reinforces the mistaken notion of the American people that society is colorblind. A few African Americans ascending to top leadership posts fosters the inaccurate mindset that great steps have been taken, Brink says.

Brink says subtle racism also has managed to turn a positive –- the occasional black quarterback –- into another stereotypical labeling that reinforces white dominance.

"The fact that African American quarterbacks are referred to in terms of their athletic ability as opposed to mental attributes demonstrates a … pattern of race logic that has been fostered in society today," Brink writes.

This labeling of black quarterbacks as great athletes shifts emphasis away from their intellectual, management and emotional tools, thereby reinforcing the "stacking" concept that blacks are to be thought of in physical rather than mental terms.

"Like any issue dealing with race, there are many factors that seem to combine to create such an incredible disparity," Brinks says. "Many White coaches and administrators believe that race is not an issue in hiring practices. Many Black coaches and administrators do not want to voice their opinion on the issue, because of the feelings of their White counterparts."

In short, Brink says, "society's beliefs and norms are rooted in a past that it would like to forget, but still holds on to."

It's not racism, but it is race based.

"This covert discourse, with its veiled and hidden ideas about race, must be consciously examined to show the dominant group the inequity that exists throughout American society."

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