— Alan Hughes
One of the most appealing characteristics of professional sports is the idea that there’s a meritocracy in place—the best players get to play. But one thing you didn’t see amidst the pageantry as the New York Giants faced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI is an African American taking the snaps.
While both teams boast elite starting quarterbacks, this coveted position has often eluded many black athletes—particularly at the professional level. As the field generals of the team, a study indicates that racial stereotyping is playing a role.
And this same stereotype is what results in so few African Americans at the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy. Case in point, African Americans make up nearly 13% of the US population; but in 2009 only 1% of the CEOs of the largest 500 publicly traded companies were black.
In the study, published by the Academy of Management Journal, more than 600 sports news articles representing all 119 NCAA Division I colleges were analyzed. “We cast a fairly wide net and again what allowed us to do this was that, there are 80-plus white quarterbacks, there are 30-plus black quarterbacks, and so we really wanted to capture this phenomenon, and we wanted to do it at the highest level of college football,” says Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a professor of organizational behavior at Duke University, and one of the two authors of “Explaining Bias Against Black Leaders: Integrating Theory on Information Processing and Goal-Based Stereotyping.”
Rosette adds that despite that the most recent Heisman Trophy winners, Robert Griffin and Cam Newton, are both African American quarterbacks. “We don’t believe this negates the aspect, because two superstars do not a trend make.”
The study concludes that black leaders are not evaluated comparably to their white counterparts, resulting in severe consequences for black organizational members and also finds that bias against black leaders is sustained because the way evaluators subscribe to stereotypes.
In short, if a black quarterback leads his team successfully, he’s a gifted athlete, not a great leader. But if he fails, he’s a poor leader. “A problem I find in here, is regarding how African Americans are perceived,” says Rosette.
According to Rosette, this is an example of compensatory stereotypes, as they compensate for a negative stereotype, but does not conflict with that negative stereotype. So we looked at it in college football, and that compensatory stereotype would be athleticism.
So the African American quarterbacks, who are leaders on the field, and have led their team to victory, they have led successfully, are not described as good leaders, but instead are described in this compensatory term, which is athleticism, and there are several examples in terms of how this could move from the football field to the actual corporate environment.
According to the data, an African American who is placed in a leadership role as a quarterback must contend with certain perceptions that they’re going to have to overcome simply because they are not expected to be in that role, and secondly are not expected to do well in that role.
While there’s currently an African American in the White House, Obama represents more of an aberration than a trend. “I think what would cause a change is, when the expectations of the race of our leaders changes,” says Rossette. “When you think, what’s going to be the race of our next president after Obama? I can probably guess, most people in general would say it’s probably going to be another white person.”
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