The XFL reboot opened up this past weekend, and sports fans have been relatively surprised by its quality. Sure, it’s not the League, but as it turns out, if you’re one of the 100 or so best in the world at your job, you’re going to do your job pretty well.
For the uninitiated, the XFL is the second iteration of a league started by wrestling oligarch Vince McMahon in the early aughts that sought to make football more EXTREME — by eliminating and altering a bunch of rules to make the sport more dangerous than it already is (to wit: kickoffs replaced by two players running full bore at a stationary football in the middle field, and whoever had the football/did not have a brain hemorrhage afterward got possession).
Now, if you’re not a sports guy, that number may not seem that high. Three out of eight coaches in a league that has a mostly black player base? But here’s another number I want you to consider: the NFL only has three black head coaches.
Across 32 teams.
Less than 10% of NFL coaches, in a league where nearly 70% of players are black, are themselves black. This is not just an NFL problem — 14 of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) college football head coaches were black coming into the 2019 season. The dearth of black coaches is genuinely galling and saddening. But here we are, with a fledgling magnate-backed league ahead in hiring black head coaches, and the NFL, one of the most powerful athletic institutions in the world — and the one responsible for loads of corporatized social justice programs — barely even trying.
The NFL has long engaged in a very public fart-smelling campaign about its vaunted minority coach hiring policy called the Rooney Rule, under which every organization needs to interview a candidate of color for their head coaching vacancy. This policy is intended to counter decades of racist hiring, and to the knowledge of most fans, it’s the only race-based hiring rule the NFL has in place. As of 2020, the Rooney Rule is clearly inadequate, a very darling, very paltry, technocratic solution to a massive problem that has been built out over exactly one century.
Hiring in the NFL is inherently racist.
I doubt this is purposeful racism. Instead, it’s a form of racism so subtle and insidious that it builds in the shadows for decades, and which eventually accrues such a huge impact that egghead neoliberals try to life hack (see: the Rooney Rule) their way out of it. This is systemic racism in its purest form.
The NFL, in its precursor form, dates back to the years after World War I. For more than 10 years, from 1934 to 1946, black people weren’t just not permitted to serve as coaches — they were banned wholesale from the league. And after decades of dozens of white head coaches coming and going — and decades of black candidates not getting a shake — Art Shell became the first black head coach in the modern era.
In 1989. A full 69 years after the earliest formation of the NFL.
We don’t need to look far for proof that something’s off. Duce Staley, a former running back who is now the assistant head coach of the Eagles, has been with the team since 2010 as a coach. That’s three separate coaching regimes, and subsequent coaching purges, he has survived. The world of football coaching is famously cutthroat and Darwinian, and the fact that Staley has made it this far shows that he is a man of clear talent and intelligence.
In the time that Staley has been with the Birds, white wunderkind coaches have come and gone (though he got his Rooney Rule interview before the hiring of Doug Pederson, which even the NFL reportedly expressed concern was a form of tokenism).
So far, the XFL actually constitutes real hope for coaches of color. It doesn’t come with a hundred years of racist baggage and stands a chance to be a more egalitarian league than the NFL, if current trends hold and the league doesn’t fold.
Now let’s get Philly a franchise, please and thank you, Bon Jovi.