April 14, 2011

Occupation Segregation Alive and Well in Intercollegiate Sports

Many African-Americans in leadership positions in athletic departments are “segregated” into academic support services, limiting their career paths, said George Cunningham, a professor at Texas A & M University who is also director of the school’s Laboratory for Diversity in Sport.

African Americans are underrepresented in both coaching positions and high-level positions in athletic departments, he said. Only 9 % of athletic directors are African American; 20% of African Americans in athletic departments work in support services, and the numbers are even lower when you exclude historically black institutions.

This “occupation segregation” limits advancement opportunities for African Americans, he said. For instance, African Americans are much more likely to work in academic support than in finance. Athletic directors are a homogenous group with similar educations, backgrounds and career paths, so it makes it even more difficult for African Americans to advance.

“It’s about stereotypes about leaders,” he said. “We associate whites with power and African Americans with peripheral positions, such as an academic advisor.”

Many African Americans do prefer working in academic support areas because many are former student-athletes themselves, and they want to work closely with student-athletes, he said. They may not seek higher-level positions because they don’t want to lose that contact with students.

But, Cunningham added, some schools prefer to keep African Americans in academic support positions because it might help recruiting. Some schools “might value them principally for their ability to relate to and recruit African American athletes. It’s not due to deficiencies on the part of African Americans, it’s occupation segregation.” -- Kerry M. King

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