According to Wikipedia, cronyism isthe practice of partiality in awarding jobs and other advantages to friends or trusted colleagues…”  What I am calling racial cronyism is the practice of whites hiring other whites who are their friends and colleagues in the face of more qualified or equally qualified BIPOC candidates.  This pattern of racial cronyism is widespread and very prevalent.  Recent examples make this point.

On Sunday, August 22, 2020 the Boston Globe published an article entitled: “The lack of Black leaders in New England college sports is ‘what institutional and systemic racism look like.’”[1]  The paper reached that conclusion after it conducted a survey among 112 colleges and universities in New England.  It found that only five, have a black athletic director.  The region also has 15 schools in  Division 1.  Of these, only one has a black  athletic department director (Holy Cross).

It is important to keep in mind that two sports, basketball and football, are dominated by black athletes.  These two sports bring in the money which funds the other, white-dominated sports like tennis, lacrosse, swimming and golf.  In essence, the athletics departments are funded by the football and basketball departments.  In spite of this, the athletic directors remain overwhelmingly white.

Of course, each school presents itself as committed to racial diversity.  Below are diversity statements of the five universities with the largest enrollments (over 25,000 students):

  • University of Massachusetts: By embracing diverse people, ideas, and perspectives we create a vibrant learning and working environment. Breaking down barriers to meaningful participation fosters a sense of belonging and treats all individuals with dignity and respect. In this environment we work toward an equitable society in which all enjoy equal rights and opportunities.
  • University of Connecticut:  The University of Connecticut embraces diversity and cultivates leadership, integrity, and engaged citizenship among our students, faculty and staff. This collegian and vibrant environment promotes and nurtures perspectives that are enabled through differences in culture, experience and values. To achieve this goal, the university emphasizes diversity in the recruitment, retention and advancement of students, faculty and staff.
  • Northeastern University:  We value and celebrate diversity in all its forms and strive to foster an inclusive culture on respect that affirms inter-group relations and builds community
  • Harvard University:  Harvard will be the world’s recognized leader in sustainable inclusive excellence by fostering a campus culture where everyone can thrive
  • Boston University: Building and sustaining a vibrant community of scholars, students and staff remains essential to our mission of contributing to, and preparing students to thrive in, an increasingly interconnected world.

One final data point.  We are talking about very highly-paid positions.  In 2019, the highest paid public position in 36 states was a basketball or football coach.[2]  For instance, in Connecticut, the highest paid public position is that of the men’s basketball coach which has a salary listed as $3,000,000.  At Providence College, that same position pays $2.7 million and at Northeastern, it pays $2.5 million.  Even Boston College pays its coach $1.3 million.  [3]

Professional basketball is another situation where whites are over-represented in the coaching ranks.  The New York Times reports (September 4, 2020) that 7 of 30 NBA coaches are of color and 5 of these are black.  This statistic appears in an article entitled: “N.B.A.’s head Coaching Diversity Under Scrutiny as Vacancies Loom.”  The article begins with this sentence: “Steve Nash, who is white, landed a head coaching job this week despite his inexperience, renewing discussions about how few posts are filled by Black people in a league where most players are Black.”[4]  (In 2018, 80.7% of the players in the NBA were of color.)[5]

Nor is professional basketball alone in this.  The NFL has a similar pattern of hiring white coaches in a sport dominated by black men.  An article in USA Today reports “between February 4, 2019 and February 2, 2020, NFL teams filled a total of 31 open positions for head coaches, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, and general managers. White men were hired for 24 of the 31 available positions, 77.4%.”[6]  The article also notes that “only three of the nine head coaches of color, Anthony Lynn, Brian Flores and Ron Rivera, who were hired since the start of the 2012 NFL season, remain current NFL head coaches as of February 22, 2020.”

Sports is not the only arena where this occurs.  I am familiar with one higher education institution where the faculty were very opposed to the hiring of a Dean of Faculty who was of color.  They felt the person was hired solely  due to affirmative action.  At the same time, they expressed their belief that the institution was there for them to hire their friends and colleagues.   This is similar to a good number of union organizations.  For instance, in many cities, the fire and police departments have a long history of being dominated by white employees, even in cities where whites are not the dominant racial group in terms of numbers.  These white firefighters and police are often the third generation in their family to hold those jobs.  The whites in these organizations are quite blunt in expressing their sentiment  that the jobs in those departments belong to them and their families.  This is also the case in various trade unions.

The enduring pattern of white racial cronyism will not just disappear.  These are highly-valued jobs, and individual whites will use all the influence they have to obtain them.  As long as these organizations are run by white leaders, whites are likely to have networks that offer them access to decisionmakers in these organizations.  If nothing else, white candidates have a style and presentation that feels comfortable for white decision-makers.  This is  less likely to be the case if the candidate is of color.   Research also backs this up.  Rutgers management professor Nancy Tomaso interviewed almost 300 workers across all job sectors and levels (workers, supervisors, and upper managers).  Her subjects reported that over their lifetimes, they found over 70% of the jobs they held through the help of family and friends.[7]

For change to occur, it is going to take white leaders who will go against the grain and put in place hiring systems that are transparent.  The hiring process must be changed to include BIPOC people on the screening panels,  interview panels and the group who makes the final decision.  This process will ensure that all candidates get examined through a variety of racial lenses.  This is the only way to counteract the advantage of white candidates whose style and presentation feels so comfortable to white decision-makers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/08/22/sports/new-england-college-sports-black-athletic-directors-coaches/

[2] Fanbuzz, December 31, 2019. https://fanbuzz.com/national/highest-paid-state-employees/

[3] USA Today, https://sports.usatoday.com/ncaa/salaries/mens-basketball/coach/

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/04/sports/basketball/nba-black-coaches-      diversity.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

[5] https://globalsportmatters.com/culture/2018/12/12/in-an-ethnic-breakdown-of-sports-nba-takes-lead-for-most-diverse/

[6] “Studies show that the NFL is not as diverse as it wants you to think. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2020/06/17/studies-show-that-the-nfl-is-not-as-diverse-as-it-wants-you-to-think/

[7] The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism. 2013