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Opinions of Thursday, 5 November 2020

Columnist: Kordson Kwasi Ayrakwa

Sports Management and the opportunities for black coaches: A Review

Sports has been one area of endeavor for which a large number of Black athletes or Black sportsmen or women have excelled. But paradoxically, only a few of our Black Sports personalities have been able to make the great leap from the field of play or practice into the realm of coaching.

This has been difficult to understand. In this regard, there is a significant lack of role models for many young Black people who would like to pursue sports coaching as a career. In this short piece, I discuss a brief history of Black people in sports.

Second, I investigate and analyze why there appears to be a lack of opportunities for past brilliant and gifted Black Sportsmen and women to become coaches.

Third, I examine the characteristics of coaches, then I look at the opportunities available for coaching and what goes into the process of selecting coaches. Further, I examine whether the lack of Black coaches is in a particular discipline of sports or whether this story cuts across all sports programs, then I examine what can be done to improve the situation and conclude the study.

A brief history of Black Sportsmen and women:

Black people have been engaged in sports for thousands of years. Modern-day sports, starting particularly in the late 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of great athletes in the 1936 Olympics games in Berlin, where Black athletes like Jesse Owens of the United States of America, won four golds medals, - the 100 meters, 200 meters, Long Jump, 4×100 meters relay.

This was such a momentous occasion, that it took the breath away from all spectators, the crowd, the German people and the whole world. To this day, Black Sportsmen and Women continue to dominate and mesmerize us: particularly the Great Usain Bolt of Jamaica who holds the record for the fastest man on earth with 9.58 second in the 2009 Berlin World Championships and 9.69 seconds in the hundred meters in Beijing Olympics games in 2008.

Usain Bolt remains the only athlete to win 100 and 200 meters in the same Olympics games. Another great black athlete is Carl Lewis who won 4 gold medals in the 1984 Olympics games in Los Angeles USA. In total, Frederick Carlton "Carl" Lewis won nine Olympic gold medals, one Olympic silver medal, and 10 World Championships medals, including eight golds. His career spanned from 1979 to 1996.

For our Black women, Alice Coachman was the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Coachman began turning heads when she broke the AAU high school and college records. Specializing in the high jump, the Albany-Georgia native certainly leaped over all the racism thrown at her. Each year between 1939 and 1948, she won a national championship award.

In 1948, she was the only American woman to bring home an Olympic gold medal in athletics. And while today, we are comfortable seeing our athletes promoting everything from cars to energy bars, Coachman was the first African American woman to endorse an international product, Coca-Cola. Coachman was a pacesetter, brazing the trail for future black track stars like Florence Griffith Joyner who still holds the fastest women's record in the 100meter dash at 10.54 seconds. She achieved this feat in the Seoul Summer Olympic games in 1988.

Interestingly, before our girl Serena even knew what it meant to “fly and dazzle us on the court,” Flo-Jo was setting fire to the tracks and fields with long, painted nails, cherry red lip game, and thick, gorgeous hair floating behind her. "Florence Griffith Joyner was someone who wanted to make a fashion statement, as well as do it while running so fast you could barely see the fashion," said Phil Hersh on ESPN Classic's Sports Century series. Taking the baton from Wilma Rudolph, Flo-Jo is considered the fastest woman of all time. In 1985, she won the 100meters at the IAAF Grand Prix Final with a time of 11.00 seconds. Her records, set back in 1988 in the 100meters and 200meters, have yet to be broken.

In the 200meters semifinals, she set the world record of 21.56 seconds and then broke this record, winning the final by 0.22 seconds with a time of 21.34 seconds. At the same Olympics, Griffith-Joyner also ran with the 4 × 100 meters relay and the 4 × 400 meters relay teams. Her team won the 4 × 100 meters relay and finished second in the 4 × 400 meters relay. This was Griffith-Joyner's first internationally rated 4 × 400 meters relay. Griffith-Joyner left the games having won four Olympic medals, three gold and one silver. At the time, her medal haul was the second most for a female track and field athlete in history, behind only Fanny Blankers-Koen who won four gold medals in 1948 Olympics.

In February 1989, Griffith-Joyner announced her retirement from racing. She cited her new business opportunities outside of sprinting. The month after announcing her retirement, Griffith-Joyner was selected as the winner of the James E. Sullivan Award of 1988 as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Sadly, our beloved Flo-Jo left us entirely too soon, dying from an epileptic seizure in 1998.

In the 1960s, far before Florence Griffith Joyner, was Wilma Rudolph. She was considered the fastest woman in the world in those days. An amazing feat for this former premature infant, who contracted polio as a child and was forced to wear a leg brace for many years. Stepping comfortably into the lane held down by Alice Coachman a generation before, Rudolph was the first Black woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic game. In both 1960 and 1961, she was named the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year. Rudolph went on to a long career as an educator, track coach, and sports commentator after the end of her professional track career. In 2004, the United States Postal Service honoured Rudolph with a 'Distinguished American' stamp.

In the field of Women's Tennis, there is no other than, Serena Williams. Her talent on the court has not gone unnoticed. In 2014, she was named America’s Greatest Athlete by The New Yorker and media often refer to her as the “Queen of the Court.” She can be said to be one of the most flamboyant women to ever hold a tennis racket. She was raised in Compton, California and is the winner of 6 U.S. Opens and 5 Wimbledon titles. The Women's Tennis Association ranked her World No. 1 in singles on six separate occasions between 2002 and 2013. Most recently, she earned her 20th Grand Slam title at the French Open.

Another important Women's athlete in the field of Tennis is Althea Gibson. There couldn’t be a Serena Williams without an Althea Gibson. She was the first black athlete to break the color line in international tennis, winning the French Open in 1956, followed by the Wimbledon and what would ultimately become the U.S. Open in 1957—a feat she repeated in 1958. The Associated Press named her the Female Athlete of the year in both 1957 and 1958. In addition to her work on the tennis court, Gibson also played golf professionally. After retiring from the sports world, Gibson had a brief stint as a singer and an actor and later became the Athletic Commissioner of New Jersey.

Following Althea Gibson achievement in Women's Sports is Dominique Dawes in the discipline of gymnastics. Dominique Dawes was a phenomenal gymnast. Dawes was a 10-year member of the U.S. national gymnastics team and a member of the gold-winning 1996 Olympic team in Atlanta. She is also the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics. Between 2004 and 2006, Dawes served as president of the Women’s Sports Federation and in 2010, she was named a co-chair for the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. Today, Dawes is rocking out as a gymnastics coach and motivational speaker.

In the field of boxing, a great number of Black athletes have dominated the sports. Our earliest memories go to Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sonny Liston, Mohammed Ali (the greatest), Joe Frasier, George Foreman, Marvelous Mavin Hagler, Thomas Hitman Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Larry Holmes, James Buster Douglas, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holifield, Michael Moorer, Leon Spinks, David Kortey Poison, Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, Mike Tyson, Frank Bruno, Trevor Berbick, Pernell Sweetpee Whitaker, Roy Jones, Floyd "Money Man" Mayweather, etc. And indeed, many of these athletes have earned a lot of money and fame from the sports and has opened doors for them beyond the field of boxing.

In the discipline of Basketball, up until the early 1970s, not too many black athletes were found in sports. But the late 1970s through the 1980s saw a gradual rise in the participation of Black Sportsmen and women in the game of basketball. For Black basketball players, the greatest among them was Michael Jordan (6 times NBA Champion), Kobe Bryant (5 times Champion), Lebron James (4 times Champion), Shaquille O'Neal, (4 times Champion), Robert Howry (7 time Champion) Bill Russell (11 times Champion ), Magic Marvin Johnson ( 5 times Champion), Hakeem Olajewon (2 times Champion), Dwayne Wade (3 times Champion), just to mention a few.

On the women's side, the WNBA has been dominated by strong, talented and determined Black women. Starting particularly with one of its greatest stars like Sheryl Swoopes. Indeed, one cannot discuss the greatest basketball player of all time without talking about Michael Jordan and yet, Swoopes often called the “female Michael Jordan” should very well be a contender. The first player signed to the WNBA, won three Olympic gold medals, was three-times WNBA MVP, and remains on every top WNBA player list ever made.

Before her work in the WNBA, Swoopes made waves at Texas Tech, where she set several school records. The Brownfield, Texas native scored 955 points in the 1992–93 season and also had three triple-doubles and twenty-three double-doubles during her time on the team. Swoopes is currently the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Loyola University in Chicago.

In the field of football (Soccer), we have great Black players like Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) - the greatest player of all-time - winner of three FIFA World Cups for Brazil, George Oppong Weah, 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year. He is the first African player to win the award and the only one to date. He is now the President of Liberia. We also have the likes of all-time legend Samuel Eto'o. He was outstanding and prolific a goal machine. Without a doubt, it could be said, he is one of the greatest African footballers. Thus, no soccer player from Africa can stand being more noteworthy than Cameroon’s Samuel Eto'o.

Along with Yaya Toure, Eto'o has won 4 African Player of the Year awards. Eto'o was a member of the teams that won the 2000 and 2002 Africa Cup of Nations and was a gold medal winner at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Preceding then, he helped Cameroon seal the AFCON title on two different competitions. He netted 130 goals for Barcelona FC, where he won La Liga in the 2008-2009 campaign. Eto'o also lifted two UCL trophies. The Cameroon international additionally won FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Champions League with Inter Milan under Jose Mourinho in 2010.

Another great Black football player was Didier Drogba. Drogba was also a goal machine in the box. One of the Premier League's most noteworthy forwards of all time and certainly a Chelsea Legend. He was named African Player of the Year two times and made top three eight times. Didier Drogba scored more than 300 goals in his football career lifting 4 Premier League trophies, 4 FA Cups, 3 English League Cups, 2 Community Shields and one UEFA Champions League trophy in 2012. He won the Premier League golden boot and made the Premier League’s team of the year.

One cannot talk about the great Black football players without mentioning the name of Ghana's Abedi Ayew Pele. An amazing international superstar of the mid-'90s. Pele is a three times African Footballer of the Year and a one-time BBC African Player of the Year. Named as one of the best 3 Africans ever to play the game of football by IFFHS and recognized by his namesake – Pele and as one of the best 125 footballers to have ever lived.

And perhaps, the most exciting Black football player of all time was Roger Milla. Roger Milla turned into a famous player as the oldest soccer player to appear in a World Cup while he was 42 years old and was believed to have netted 405 goals as a soccer player. Some believe that he is the best African player of all time. Perhaps, that might be true but this all depends upon who you ask. Roger Milla is said to have scored 438 goals in 794 games in his football career. He won the African Player of the Year prize twice and further won the Nation's cup twice for Cameroon. The player made the World Cup XI team and was the third-best goal scorer in 1990. Milla turned into the most seasoned player ever to play in the 1994 World Cup.

Milla was recognized by IFFHS as the second-best African player of the most recent 100 years. Some hail him because of his consistency. However, he is one of only a handful of Africans to make a significant and distinctive effect at a World Cup whose honours can back up his reputation. Milla made the FIFA 100 and identified by the CAF as the African Player of the Century. The legend played for Cameroon at 3 World Cups and won the Cup of Nations. He was top scorer at the competition twice and was likewise Player of the Tournament in 1986. No footballer can stand to have ruled the continent's soccer during the 1980s like Roger Milla.

The list of great Black football players goes on: Nwankwo Kanu, Yaya Toure, Jay-Jay Okocha, Michael Essien, Sammy Kuffour, Rabah Madjer, Thomas N'Kono, Omar Biyik, Makanake, Abdul Razak (Golden Boy), Mohammed Polo, Frimpong Manso, Nii Odartey Lamptey, Emmanuel Duah, Tony Yeboah, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Reggaebe Song, John Barnes, Ian Rush, Rummel Lucaku, Dwight York, Marcus Ransford, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, N’Golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe, Marcel Desailly, Lilian Thuram, Claude Makélélé Sinda, etc, etc.

Despite the great success chalked by both Black Sportsmen and Women on the field, this has not translated directly into them gaining coaching positions or managerial positions on teams in many organized sports. Why this has been the case is difficult to tell. It, therefore, begs the question of what are the qualities or skills or qualifications or competencies needed for these managerial roles to be met by Black Sportsmen and Women who are interested in becoming coaches or managers of various sports teams.

Responsibility of Coaches and Skills, Competencies of Black Athletes

Coaches or managers of professional sports teams are in charge of the teams concerning the day to day affairs or operations of the team, selection of players, development of players, teaching and nurturing of teams, instruction of tactics, techniques, philosophy, mindset, goals, vision, mission, motivation, improving player wellbeing, psychology, education, and teamwork concept, which puts the team first instead of individual needs, team unity, dedication, commitment and hard-working ethics.

And for many of these Black Sportsmen and Women, for them to rise to the highest echelons of their fields in sports, they must of necessity have some of these prerequisites skills to succeed. They must be determined, they must be disciplined, they must be able to motivate themselves and others around them, they must have achievable goals and strong work ethics. The only area one might think they may lack skills is education (some do not have a great educational background) and financial management as many Black Sportsmen - have particularly been reported to have gone broke even though, they have earned some substantial amounts of money during their careers.

But, even in terms of education and financial management, Black Sportsmen and Women could be taught to acquire these skills and competencies and apply them when needed. So, if it becomes difficult to justify the lack of opportunities for them in the management of sports teams at the highest professional levels.

One thing though, which has been thought to work against Black Sportsmen and Women is the lack of strong networks, affiliations and connections which are a critical driver and the necessary platform for them to be recognized and given such opportunities.

Opportunities for Black Sportsmen and Women in management:

Opportunities for Black Sportsmen and Women in sport management are few. It is, therefore, gratifying to hear that, recognized old players like Didier Drogba of Chelsea fame and La Cote Ivoire - Les Elephants, who want to stand for the presidency of the Ivorian Football Federation is in the right direction. Thus, the VOA News reported on 22 August 2020, that " former international - Didier Drogba entered the race to be president of the Ivorian Football Federation (FIF) Saturday. Hundreds gathered to cheer the former Chelsea and Marseille striker when he arrived at FIF’s Abidjan headquarters. Members of his team signed the paperwork for his candidacy.

However, Drogba, the leading goal scorer in Ivory Coast's football history, is not the favoured candidate to win the FIF’s presidency. Drogba, the twice African player of the year, faces strong competition from current FIF vice president Idriss Diallo, who is now supported by the Association of Ivorian Footballers".

In the National Football League (NFL), although seventy percent (70%) of the NFL’s players are black, there are only three black head coaches: Pittsburgh Steelers' - Mike Tomlin, Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Anthony Lynn. Dolphins’ Chris Grier is the only black general manager in the NFL.

Similarly, in the NBA, the representation of Black coaches in charge of teams is low. In the NBA, we have Dak Rivers as head coach of the LA Clippers, and in Toronto, Canada, the Toronto Raptors have Ujiri Masai as their General Manager who orchestrated the smartest trade in their history to win the 2019 NBA Championships.

Process of selecting coaches:

The selection of coaches is usually based on skills, competencies, experiences, networks, linkages and compatibility. Some coaches attend colleges and sports management programs to acquire the necessary skills and competencies to handle the diverse management needs of teams, complex behaviors, personalities, owners, players and the many agents they have to deal with on regular basis. This can be very challenging or daunting and requires critical thinking, tactics, techniques and wisdom.

Some coaches are lucky to have passed through the ranks of the organization and understand the culture and work ethics that helps the team to function well. These intangible advantages perhaps help coaches to earn the respect of players and can direct the affairs of teams effectively and can be a good medium or a calming voice between management objectives and aspirations and needs of players. This is critical to ensure a well functioning team or organization where there is order, peace, progress and happiness. Hence persons or coaches who have not been groomed through the team system sometimes suffer since they do not enjoy the support of all members of the team.

Networks are also crucial for those aspiring to be coaches. This is because owners of teams to a large extent prefer to work with people or coaches, they are familiar and comfortable with and understand the business of sports management and the critical financial commitments involved, overall objective and targets of the team. Unfortunately, not many Black Sportsmen and Women have had the opportunity or have been exposed to these tendencies or such networks and links which promotes essential platforms for growth in this complex world of sport management.

But it is important to mention that, in the world of football (Soccer) and Athletes some progress has been made. For example, Claude Makélélé Sinda is a French football manager and former professional player who played as a defensive midfielder. He is currently a youth coach and technical mentor at Chelsea, having formerly been the head coach of Belgian First Division A.

In the Premier League, there were only three Black managers as was reported in the Bleacher Report in 2012 by Manny Okito in his article entitled "The Lack of Black Managers Shows British Soccer Still Has Room for Growth". The report further indicated that "this issue has come up recently in the English Premier League (EPL), which is still wrestling with ways to integrate Afro-Caribbean players into all levels of the game. Great progress has been made from the bad old days of the 1970s and the 1980s, where black players were booed on the field and had bananas thrown at them, but there is still room for improvement at the management level".

However, the issue of corruption has been seen in the management of some football associations on the continent. This makes it difficult to argue for more top positions at the international level for Africans or Black executives. The Kwesi Nyantakyi (former administration of football in Ghana) case in Ghana in 2018, indicates how some Black executives can usurp positions of authority entrusted to them. It is said or alleged that he was involved in bribery, match-fixing and corruption. This puts the football association into disrupt. He was banned by FIFA for 90 days pending results of investigations. To forestall further shame, he resigned from his post.

In athletics, in May 2015, the FBI was involved in arresting, FIFA officials, linked to widespread corruption and money laundering, that later brought the long-awaited downfall of the President - Seth Blatter and plunged FIFA, and many regional football bodies including UEFA, into crisis. Then, in November 2015, French police investigated the former International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) president Lamine Diack, along with the institution’s legal director and anti-doping director, relating to allegations that substantial bribes were accepted to conceal the positive doping test results of athletes.

What can be done to improve the situation for Black Sportsmen and Women:

Leading Sports Leagues and associations must endeavour to create more coaching opportunities for Black Sportsmen and Women. More Black Sportsmen and Women must also avail themselves for such opportunities and seize such opportunities when they become available. More Black Sportsmen and Women need to network more to place themselves in situations where they can be seen or recognized by the owner of teams/clubs. More Black Sportsmen and Women must collaborate and put their resources together to become owners of teams. In that way, they can give the chance to other competent coaches of colour to participate at the management level. Black Sportsmen and Women must show excellence and proof themselves that, they are capable to do the job at the highest level. This will open the doors for other Black Sportsmen and Women who want to pursue coaching as a career.


In this short piece. One has tried to explain the complex nature of sports management and the challenges thereof for Black Sportsmen and Women. Black Sportsmen and Women have great talent, skills and competencies that can be brought to bear on the management of sports. What is critical in Sports management though, is the need for a change to allow every Tom, Dick and Harry to manage teams and clubs irrespective of their race so long as they have the necessary skills, qualities, competencies and experience to do the job.

The selection of coaches for many professional clubs and teams is not easy. It involves team chemistry, familiarity, financial management, attitude, temperament, vision, best fit, vision, team goals and objectives. And sometimes these qualities are hard to find and have grave consequences on the overall performance of the team. Therefore, owners of clubs and teams are very careful to choose the right coach who meets the needs of the team.

Nevertheless, the opportunity to give Black Sportsmen and Women who want to become coaches the chance to realize these dreams will be in the right direction and making Sport Management more inclusive and more representative of all.