Liam James Doyle/University of St. Thomas

In the News: David Grenardo on the History of Nepotism in the NFL

David Grenardo, professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, recently spoke with the USA Today about the history of nepotism within the NFL, particularly regarding the long family ties of franchise owners and coaches.

From the story:

The family factions face off at Allegiant Stadium, serving as another reminder of how nepotism and family birthrights are still heavily ingrained in the NFL, where 16 of the league’s 32 owners inherited their teams from family, compared to only six of 30 in the NBA, according to USA TODAY Sports research. ...

This is the Super Bowl, the ultimate contest in a merit-based playoff system.

“One of the reasons that these statistics may bother some people is that sports is supposed to be a meritocracy,” said David Grenardo, a law professor and sports law expert at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. “The best players play on the team, and the team that plays the best wins. Meritocracy, however, applies to players, not ownership or coaching.”

Both Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid also coached against each other in the Super Bowl in 2020 and are considered among the brightest coaching minds in the NFL, regardless of how they traded on their family names to give or get coaching jobs. 

But now it comes against a shifting cultural backdrop in which the term “nepo baby” is used to describe children who follow in the footsteps of their celebrity parents – and while a lawsuit filed in 2022 remains active against the NFL over its alleged pattern of discrimination against hiring Black coaches. ...

“The situation is a microcosm of society,” said Grenardo, who last year published a peer-reviewed paper on the lack of Black owners in sports. That society includes a wealth disparity built over many generations, long divided along racial lines to the benefit of white property owners.