The National Football League (NFL) has created well paved roads for white coaches and management to advance while opportunities for Black management are slim. Time and time again, we see the NFL resume their cycle of hypocrisy when it comes to supporting Black equality. According to the NFL’s 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Report, from February 4, 2019, to February 2, 2020, the NFL filled 31 head coaching and general management positions. Out of 31 spots, men of color were hired for only seven of those positions, or 22.58 percent. The NFL has failed to be forthright about their shortcomings, and their public relations campaigns have blinded viewers from the reality that not much has changed.
The Rooney Rule, introduced in 2003, requires every NFL team with a head coaching, front office, or general manager vacancy to interview one or more diverse candidates for the position. However, simply meeting this requirement doesn’t ensure that a diverse candidate will get the job. The rule has been adapted several times in attempts to promote diversity, though these measures haven’t produced meaningful results. In 2018, the rule was expanded to include various requirements and commitments to diversity. This included a requirement to interview at least one diverse candidate from the Career Development Advisory Panel list or a diverse candidate not currently employed by the club. In 2020, the rule was further adapted to extend to a wider range of executive positions.
In an NFL statement outlining the recent policy plan, Art Rooney II, co-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the Workplace Diversity Committee said, “We believe these new policies demonstrate the NFL Owners’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the NFL.” From the outside, these mandates appear to be great steps in the right direction for the league. However, tangible outcomes of the NFL’s commitment to diversity and equality within its leadership are scarce. The lack of Black representation in coaching and managing in the NFL is evident, and these commitments to diversity have proven to be empty. While these measures have worked to ensure more diverse interviews, they have not ensured diverse hirings.
While these measures have worked to ensure more diverse interviews, they have not ensured diverse hirings.
Actions speak louder than words. While people of color represent nearly 70 percent of players in the NFL, only three head coaches are Black men. There has yet to be a female head coach. Allowing players to paste Black Lives Matter decals on the back of their helmets doesn’t mean much when those efforts aren’t backed by real representation and change. White coaches have consistently been given an upper hand when it comes to management opportunities.
Let’s take Eric Bieniemy, Black man and offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, as an example. In the last hiring cycle, Bieniemy was passed over while undisputedly less qualified white candidates were chosen for the head coaching positions. Despite high praise from star quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the head coach of the Chiefs, Andy Reid, apparently Bieniemy’s qualifications weren’t enough for a leadership position in the NFL. Coming into his 15th year as an NFL assistant coach with former playing experience, he was turned away yet again.
Unfortunately, this story isn’t unique. If the NFL was truly committed to diversity, equality, and inclusion, Black coaches would be filling these positions. Instead, they have opted for young and less experienced white candidates. General managers, reporting to the team president, owner, or CEO, are responsible for the hiring and firing of the coaching staff. Out of 32 NFL teams, only two have Black general managers. Here we can observe the issue. Decision making is for the most part in the hands of white management in authoritative positions.
This issue boils down to implicit bias, the bias that is a deterring factor for aspiring Black coaches or managers. Much like in other areas of profession, what we see represented is what we believe to be possible. Black youth can look to the football game on television and see themselves as players, but don’t have a vision of their potential as coaches, managers, decision makers, or leaders in the game they love. If the NFL wants to see a future of Black representation in these positions, they must act on their mandates and take accountability for these faults.