Black people are in a constant space of limbo in this country. Black coaches in professional sports leagues are no exception. We tend to be the minority in this field as we are in many others. However, in the professional basketball and football ranks here, Black people make up the majority of the players. So you’d think that with those figures, the majority of people leading these men would be Black too, right? Well, not so much. We’ve made significant strides, but we still have a ways to go.
There’s a ton of cache and responsibility that comes with being a head coach. There’s also all of the front-facing responsibility associated with your organization. So, needless to say, these roles are coveted and revered. Being a head coach is akin to what we touched on last week regarding quarterbacks. They’re seen as people who can lead and have immense intelligence and judgment. All too often Black people have been seen as people who didn’t fit that bill. But, in all honesty, they’re just not given equal opportunity.
As mentioned, things are slowly beginning to change. For instance, as of August 2023, the NBA has 16 Black head coaches, according to a report from The Grio. The NBA has 30 teams. So, in their league, over half of their head coaches are Black. On the flip side, The NFL currently only boasts three Black head coaches. we have a way to go until we see tangible balance across the sports landscape in this respect.
But if we could for a moment, focus on the current Black coaches that we do have. We have to stop having them be put on the hot seat so much sooner than their white counterparts. It has to play in the back of their minds because it certainly plays in the back of mine. It seems that as the team begins to falter a bit, the media at large begins to question a Black coach’s ability a lot sooner. We’ve seen it recently in the cases of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Darvin Ham, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Adrian Griffin. Both teams are currently performing below their expectations. Although both coaches could improve aspects of their strategy, when addressing the media, it seems that there’s more weight to the conversations.
Above you can see Ham seeking to sort of rally the troops. But also, he feels the sense of urgency in a market like L.A. where he laments, “I’m tired of people living and dying with every single game we play.” To put it plainly, it’s a lot. It would be a lot for anyone quite frankly. And for a coach who took his team to the Western Conference finals last year, he’s just seeking a vote of confidence. It has taken only until recently for Bill Belichick’s job to be finally called into question. He did a heck of a lot of winning, but when Tom Brady left, losing ensued. It’s been a couple of years of equity he has built up to finally be spent.
With so little opportunity out there for Black head coaches, the least we could do is give them the benefit of the doubt. You learn through these trials. There isn’t a coach alive whose career doesn’t have a few dud seasons. It’s the ebb and flow of sports. It’s the ebb and flow of life. We in the media must extend that grace as well, it’s the only way that we can contribute specifically to this change that we’d like to see.