Staff Editorial: AU athletics racial discrimination lawsuit raises questions

Hiring lawsuit makes University's commitment to diverse staffing problematic

Staff Editorial: AU athletics racial discrimination lawsuit raises questions

On Oct. 30, a lawsuit was filed in D.C. federal court by David Nakhid accusing the University of racial discrimination in the hiring of the men’s head soccer coach by a former American Univeristy men’s soccer player. He had applied for the open position of men’s soccer head coach, and alleges that his application was not even considered for an interview, even with previous experience playing at AU and internationally, along with coaching.

Nakhid was a player for the University from 1983 to 1986 and was inducted into the Stafford H. Cassell Hall of Fame in 2005. According to his website, Nakhid has played professionally in Switzerland, Belgium and Greece and, since retiring from playing, has founded his own soccer academy that he coaches. It is this professional background that Nakhid feels should have gotten him an interview, but he alleges that the University never contacted him. Instead, the men’s soccer coach position was offered to one white coach who rejected the position, and then to another white coach who accepted it.

This lawsuit is one in a series over the last few years alleging hiring discrimination by the University. This year, an age discrimination suit found the University responsible, which AU then asked for a retrial. That retrial was then denied. This lawsuit is another troubling case where it appears the University’s calls for diversity are only half-hearted. For many students, the focus is on increasing diversity among professors, but diversity within staff, especially among athletics, is also disappointing. The entire athletic department’s administrative staff is white. Of all AU’s athletic teams coaches, only two are men of color. Neither of these men are head coaches of teams.

This problem of majority white coaching athletic staff isn’t unique to AU. The NCAA has demographic data that confirms that while student athletes themselves may be diverse, their coaches are primarily white. As of 2018, 85 percent of men’s head soccer coaches across the NCAA were white, while 57 percent of men’s basketball players were white. Within the Patriot League, 80 percent of men’s head basketball coaches are white with 62 percent of players are white. Clearly, this is a systemic problem of head coaches being white. What this lawsuit may indicate, however, is the work AU is doing, or not doing to solve it.

Perhaps Nakhid would not have ultimately been chosen as head coach — we have no idea what qualifications were exactly needed for the position that may have disqualified him. But it is a question of why he was not given an interview, especially since Nakhid is a former AU student athlete. Whether Nakhid has been able to build a case that the athletic department may have racially discriminated against him remains to be seen. How these decisions are made is also unclear, including what sort of panel may interview candidates or evaluate their applications. This does not seem to have been a case where only the first and second choice, who is currently coaching the team, were really in competition for the position. As this is a systemic issue that head coaches are primarily white across the NCAA, it would have been interesting for AU to have perhaps found a way to bring Nakhid into the program at all. When hiring comes down to questions of experience, the fact that there are so few opportunities for men of color to act as head coaches at the collegiate level, especially at predominantly white institutions, this only perpetuates exclusivity. Athletic departments across the country must find ways to include more voices in their staff.

The University’s seemingly constant lawsuits, or appealing lawsuits, is frustrating. It also indicates a lack of awareness on the University’s part of expanding diversity in all staffing. The outcome of Nakhid’s lawsuit may have serious implications about the University’s hiring process. Hopefully, AU will take that responsibility seriously.

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