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Can We Fix the NWSL’s “White”, “British” and “Male” Gridlock?

The NWSL has a total of nine head coaches as of February 7, 2020 with Craig Harrington joining the Utah Royals as their head coach.

Eight of them are men.

Six of them are white, British men.

The only female head coach in the league is Sky Blue’s Freya Coombe. Chicago Red Star’s Rory Dames is the only American and the Reign’s Farid Benstiti is the only Frenchman. For a league that prides itself on being one of the top in the world for women’s soccer, the NWSL has often been one of the hardest leagues in the world for women to acquire head coaching jobs.

Until 2020 it was often Laura Harvey as the only woman in a sea of men during the annual head coach photo at the NWSL draft. Over the years a few women have made the photo: Cindy Parlow Cone in 2013 for the Portland Thorns and Denise Reddy for Sky Blue FC may be two of the better known.

The league has spoken before about having a “Laura Harvey rule” and encouraging or requiring--depending on who you ask--teams to interview women when conducting head coach searches. The problem is multifold but essentially boils down to two particular things. The men that apply often have more experience--usually in men’s soccer, which has more jobs because there are more clubs in the world for boys and men. And, frankly, men are expected to be head coaches of teams, even women’s teams. It’s a bias that cuts deep even for the people who own professional sports teams.

So what can the NWSL do to help put their thumb on the scale without mandating that teams hire more women staff in their pipelines or just flat out hire women as head coaches?

Reward teams that do hire women as head coaches.

People like rewards, and NWSL owners might be special people but they are people none the less.

So reward them for doing the right thing. Or at least a good thing.

If they hire a woman to be one of the two assistant coaches or the goalkeeping coach they get $10,000 added to their salary cap. If they hire a woman as their head coach they get $30,000. When the salary cap is $650,000, an extra $30,000 or $60,000 for hiring a woman into these coaching roles could be the boost a team needs to make the playoffs.

Look, is this going to get North Carolina to dump Paul Riley as their head coach? No. And honestly, Riley should keep his job for what he’s done. But might something like this make teams who have two candidates in front of them take a perceived risk and go with a woman who might otherwise be passed over for the white, British male candidate that has been the most popular option in this league’s history? Maybe it will.

The league could also give them an extra international slot or more allocation money or something else teams want. There are a lot of options to try to nudge teams in the right directions. This is but one of them. Whomever the next commissioner of the league turns out to be, they would do well to consider the idea of giving small advantages to teams as incentive for breaking the gridlock around who is given coaching chances.

If we ever get a new NWSL commissioner, that is.


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