Compare that to the university employees who profit most directly from football: coaches and administrators. In 2014-15, 81.6 percent of Division I athletic directors were white—87.4 percent if you don’t count HBCUs. The numbers skew even farther if you include all three divisions. The NCAA reports 1,081 member schools that aren’t HBCUs, and among those a little over 90 percent have a white athletic director. The numbers are about the same for coaches: 82.8 percent of Division I head coaches and 81.5 percent of coordinators are white, while 15.2 percent of head coaches and 15.6 percent of coordinators are black.
While the head coach and coordinator numbers more or less represent the population of the U.S. as a whole, there are two bits of context worth noting. First, the population of college-football participants gets whiter the farther up the chain of power you go: from players, to graduate assistants and position coaches, to coordinators and head coaches, to administrators. Second, the racial dynamics of the head-coaching ranks don’t come close to matching the makeup of the body of players from which coaches are almost universally drawn.
In short: In the world of college football, the more privileged a person’s background, the more power he (sometimes she, but usually he) has, and the less risk he assumes. And if those survey numbers about parents holding their kids out of football wind up reflecting the future, that imbalance is not only going to increase, but it’s going to be reflected significantly along class lines as well as racial lines.
Not that any of this comes as a particular shock. But unless something changes, college football is going to reach a point where the distribution of risk and profit in college football is so grotesquely unfair, and the ethical ramifications (ideally) or the optics (probably) of unpaid poor and/or black men destroying themselves for the profit and amusement of white men will make the sport, as it exists now, unsustainable.
So what, if anything, can be done?
There’s a growing belief that football is so dangerous it’s unethical to contribute to its hegemony in American culture by consuming it, publicizing it, or contributing to it financially. Every minute passed discussing the sport adds to its cultural importance; every dollar spent on tickets or apparel feeds the machine that turns healthy boys into broken men, and along the way produces toxic levels of sexism, militarism, retrograde masculinity, and corporate greed. The only way to stop the dangerous chokehold football has on American culture, then, is to deprive it of the attention and money that make it work.
But while the urge to boycott is understandable, it’s so far been ineffective as a tactic for enacting change. The most direct impact of football’s brain-injury crisis has been the proliferation of thinkpieces calling for concerned consumers to boycott the NFL, a movement that’s gained steam as the league bungled domestic-abuse investigations against Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. But the league posted $7.2 billion in revenue in 2014—more than double what it pulled in in 2010. Last May, Keith Olbermann called for viewers to boycott the NFL draft and the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, in response to inaction by the governing bodies of both football and boxing to confront their athletes’ high-profile predilection for intimate-partner violence. The draft’s ratings dropped significantly from 2014 (though it’s unclear how much of that is due to the influence of Olbermann and others like him), but it was still the third-highest-rated draft ever. The Pacquiao-Mayweather fight took in $400 million from 4.4 million pay-per-view buys in the U.S. alone. If a boycott of football could bring about real change, it hasn’t happened yet.