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Study explores media bias surrounding Black coaches in NFL

UCF professor Keith Harrison led a research project released in December that “explores whether stereotypes play a role in the occupational mobility for Black coaches,” according to Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY. The study, titled, “Who gets the benefit of the doubt? Media bias and narratives of NFL coaches,” examined written content published by traditional print media and web-based outlets, "collecting descriptors used to discuss and depict NFL coaches.” More than 330 articles posted online “were analyzed” from the beginning of the '21 preseason through the week of Dec. 5, with content "involving 96 head coaches and coordinators." Among the findings:

  • Coaches were "written about in a 'positive' manner with the same frequency regardless of race, as the content that involved white coaches (81.1%) was similar to that for coaches of color (82%)."
  • Descriptors "such as 'struggling' and 'fail' were utilized more when media described coaches of color."
  • Non-white coaches were "discussed and dissected in more detail negatively at a greater rate than their white counterparts."

Harrison: “Black males, compared to white males, are not seen as leaders first. You can’t get hired to run a team if you’re not seen as a leader. And if you are hired, it ends up leading to quicker firings.” Harrison's study is "unique in that it focused solely on the coaching industry." Still, perhaps more scrutiny on how candidates are portrayed "will help raise consciousness about the need for a level playing field of opportunity." Given the "dismal trends, it surely can’t hurt" (USA TODAY, 1/22).

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