NFL Still Wrestles With Diversity Issues

By Ron Wynn

It seems no matter how hard they try, the National Football League can’t quite get things right when it comes to issues of diversity, whether it’s head coaches or upper management. They’ve spent the past 10 months trying to figure out ways to improve their numbers, which remain awful for a league with a 75 percent Black playing membership. This season began with four teams having minority head coaches (three Black, one Latino), and just two with minority general managers. 

As the year has evolved, two more Blacks have inherited jobs via the interim route when white head coaches were fired. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris and Romeo Crennel have taken over the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans positions. Tuesday the league passed a new diversity measure, but the action has already been criticized by the very people it was supposedly intended to help. 

Various minority sources inside the NFL told ESPN they were not given advance notice about the passing of the plan, which gives two third-round compensatory draft picks to teams that lose minority head coaches or general managers to other teams. The sources said the NFL owners approved the plan too quickly, and they were not able to give input ahead of the resolution’s passing. “This will affect all of us, and we wanted to be involved in the process,” a source told ESPN. “We don’t know whether it’s lip service or real, and we just want to be judged on our own merits.”

Amazing that after all these months of discussion, the league wouldn’t include or get input from Blacks in the league on a move designed to ostensibly improve their chances of getting hired. Conservative types like commentator Jason Whitlock have claimed all this does is actually make it more difficult for Blacks to get head coaching or general manager jobs because no team wants to lose compensatory draft picks as well as good coaches.

Another NFL executive source questioned the impact the rule will have on intradivisional hiring. “It’s counterintuitive,” a source told ESPN. “They’re rewarding you for doing something that you should have been doing already.” In fairness, the league does seem to have recognized how bad their current situation looks and are trying to improve it. They expanded the Rooney Rule in May, while the Colts in June created a Director of Diversity position.

But the odd thing is this year Black head coaches are proving that all they need is an opportunity. The Steelers Mike Tomlin recently became the winningest Black head coach in NFL history, though that’s due as much to the Steelers not being a team that makes quick or foolish panic moves as it is his stalwart ability to motivate and get the best out of his players. Tomlin had the Steelers in first place in the AFC North by three games at press time, and the only undefeated team in the NFL.

Former Patriots defensive leader Brian Flores also had the Miami Dolphins in first place at the nine game mark, their 6-3 record being their best in years at this point. Flores recently made a bold move by elevating Tua Tagovailoa to the number one QB spot despite people claiming he wasn’t ready, and insisting Ryan Fitzpatrick (who had played fairly well) should have retained the job. But Flores argued it was time to look forward, and he felt Tagovailoa could still lead the Dolphins to the playoffs despite his inexperience. 

The bottom line is there are more qualified Blacks for coaching and management positions than at any time in league history. That it’s taken various rule changes and mandates to do something about the hiring inequities is not a good thing for the NFL, but at least they are trying to address it. But in the future they should make certain that the very minorities they claim to be concerned about are involved in whatever measures they take to address past injustices.