During the NBA Draft, the number of prospects who were the children of former WNBA or NBA stars highlighted an extremely conspicuous trend. An increasing number of professional athletes are the progeny of professional athletes who possess the resources and insider knowledge to pass down what and who they know. Who ya know applies even more specifically to breaking down the front doors of front offices across major American sports.
It’s not often that black folks get to take advantage of our blood connections to advance within the executive corridors of billion-dollar franchises. On Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks named Mike Grier as their next general manager. Grier’s appointment makes him the first African-American general manager in NHL history, which isn’t surprising considering the NHL’s monochromatic history.
Beyond that, Grier is also the brother of Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier and the son of longtime NFL personnel guy Bobby Grier. Bobby is a high-ranking veteran player personnel department chief. In the late ‘90s, Grier butted heads with Bill Parcells over the selection of Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn, leading to Parcells’ infamous “buying the groceries” quip. Owner Bob Kraft sided with Grier, another rarity in the NFL. The Griers are accomplishing what very few black families in sports have been able to do.
Look around the front offices of pro sports league offices and you’ll find them littered with the offspring of white NFL execs. Eliot Wolf, the son of legendary Packers general manager Ron Wolf, is director of scouting for the New England Patriots. This past hiring cycle, Eliot was a candidate for the Vikings and Chicago Bears general manager positions. In due time, he’ll be leading an NFL franchise.
In coaching circles, familial connections are integral to getting fast-tracked through the coaching ranks. Only 24 of the 521 coaches in NFL history have been African-American.
In 2019, Mike Zimmer made his son co-offensive coordinator where he shared duties with Minnesota’s 59-year-old coach, Andre Patterson, who is Black. The small sample size of Black NFL coaches has made it a deterrent to them even being able to keep a foot in the door for their children.
Wayne Embry began the migration of black athletes to front offices in 1972 when he assumed the reins of the Milwaukee Bucks. In 1979, Bill Lucas shattered the racial barrier in MLB as the Atlanta Braves general manager. The NFL didn’t even cross that rubicon until Ozzie Newsome was promoted from within by the Baltimore Ravens in 2002, six years after he’d assumed most of the chores associated with being a general manager and two years after he was NFL Executive of the Year.
This isn’t to imply that Mike or Chris Grier are unqualified. They were undoubtedly given the blueprint by their father Bobby though. Chris spent four years as a scout for the New England Patriots before accepting a position with the Dolphins and worked his way up the executive ladder. Mike Grier retired from the NHL in 2011 and served in a variety of personnel roles with the Blackhawks, Devils and Rangers. But having Bobby to help them ascend the corporate ladder helped even if he was unable to make that final leap to being an NFL franchise’s chief grocery shopper.
It’s somewhat telling that there’s really one black family across pro sports that stretches multiple generations. There is an assortment of black NBA head coaches whose sons have followed in their footsteps, but front offices have been tougher to infiltrate even in the NBA. None of this is necessarily nepotism. An example of that would be Vivek Ranadive recently naming his unqualified daughter as assistant general manager of the Sacramento Kings G-League franchise.
The closest thing to the Griers in MLB is the aforementioned Bill Lucas, whose sister was married to Hank Aaron from 1953 to 1971.They might be the beginning, but they shouldn’t be the last of a trend of Black families hoisting their relatives onto the executive track.