Diversity through make-work?

Last month, the Washington Football Team (formerly known as the Redskins) proudly announced that Jennifer King would be an assistant coach. She is now the team’s assistant running backs coach and the first full-time Black female coach in NFL history.

If King is a competent coach, and I have no reason to doubt that she is, then I’m happy for her. But look again at her title — assistant running backs coach.

How many NFL teams have such a coach? I checked the websites of every NFC team. It appears that none of these teams had an assistant running backs coach in 2020.

The reason seems obvious. Teams typically have only five running backs, counting members of the practice squad. A unit that small isn’t viewed as needing two coaches. Assistant position coaching jobs are normally reserved for larger units like the offensive and defensive lines.

It seems, then, that the Washington Football Team has invented a coaching job and filled it with a Black female.

And that’s not all. The team touts the fact that it has a Black team president (Jason Wright) and a Black general manager (Martin Mayhew). But Wright’s job seems like a purely business/administrative post that has little or nothing to do with actual football. By contrast, Bruce Allen, the former team president, ran the team in all of its aspects.

And Mayhew is sharing duties with Marty Hurney, whose title is executive vice president of football of player personnel. During a press conference in which both Mayhew and Hurney were introduced, the two were portrayed as equals in the hierarchy.

Both made it clear, moreover, that the team is “coach-centric,” in other words that coach Ron Rivera is is in charge. Thus, Mayhew, who failed to distinguish himself as GM of the Detroit Lions, is sharing power with Hurney in a scaled-down GM position.

I’m sure Jennifer King and Martin Mayhew will perform plenty of real work. This isn’t a case of diversity through make work. It is, however, diversity through title inflation.

Owner Daniel Snyder has good reason to achieve diversity this way. Snyder is in an ugly fight with his co-owners. He’s also been accused of sexual harassment.

He therefore needs to get/stay on the good side of the League. What better way to accomplish this than through diversity brownie points?

Snyder might also want to get on the good side of the local media. That seems like a fool’s errand, given the seemingly intractable nature of media hostility towards the owner.

However, the Washington Post will forgive plenty in the name of diversity, or its appearance. Thus, the paper’s lead sports columnist, Barry Svrluga, has written a piece called (in the paper edition) “This front office looks different and that is a reason for hope.” He judges the quality of the front office by the skin color of its occupants.

Svrluga’s column includes this gem from the Black team president, Jason Wright:

We know if we have a diverse team we actually get the better outcomes.

Wright doesn’t say how we know this. Maybe he heard it at McKinsey & Company, where he used to work.

If by “the better outcomes,” the ex-consultant means “wins,” there is no basis for his claim. Bill Belichick hasn’t needed a diverse, top-heavy team of execs to obtain great outcomes. Throughout football history, teams have won big under the direction of one or two football geniuses (e.g. Joe Gibbs and Bobby Beathard in Washington) without loading up the top of their org charts in order to check the “diversity” box.

That’s reality. Winning through diversity is fantasy.

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