The NFL continues to engage in artful verbal messaging but tangible outcomes reverberate much more resoundingly as it pertains to their hiring practices. Bottom line: there are only two Black head coaches in the 32-team league, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores, a Brooklyn native of Honduran descent.

For decades, this publication, beginning with the great journalist and activist Howie Evans, sports editor emeritus of the AmNews, has loudly advocated for increased hiring of Black head coaches by NFL owners. Ironically, Evans was the first Black sports journalist to travel with an NFL team, achieved when he covered the New York Jets during the days of the legendary Joe Namath.

Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard was the first Black NFL coach when he was both a player and coach in 1921 for the Akron Pros of the American Professional Football Association, renamed the National Football League in 1922. In 1989, Pro Football Hall of Fame member Art Shell, like Evans an alumnus of HBCU Maryland State, now the University of Maryland Eastern-Shore, became the modern era’s first Black NFL head coach when he was elevated from being the Oakland Raiders’ offensive line coach by team owner Al Davis.

There is a 32 year gap between Shell’s groundbreaking accomplishment and today. But the most important number is 1. The NFL has just one more Black head coach than it did in 1989 at the time this article was written. Let that sink in when anyone representing the league makes a baseless assertion of progress.

In a league in which 70% of the players are Black, there were only three Black head coaches when the 2020 season began. The Los Angeles Chargers’ Anthony Lynn was fired early this month to reduce representation by over a third. It’s not about Black coaches lacking intellectual necessities, experience, deep technical football knowledge, innovative minds or leadership skills.

Their primary disadvantage is seeking advancement and opportunities from white owners that have a much more palpable connection to white coaches who reflect their cultural values. Indeed it is skin color, common ethnic ethos, political ideology and aligned world views that provides white coaches an inherent asset Black coaches don’t possess.

When the current hiring cycle began, there were seven head coaching vacancies. As of yesterday five were filled. Four by white coaches and one by Robert Saleh, a Muslim American of Lebanese descent born and raised in Dearborn, Mich., who was hired by the Jets. Black majority ownership of an NFL franchise or franchises may not be an elixir if Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is the example.

Khan, a Pakistani born American billionaire and Muslim could have hired the NFL’s first-ever Muslim coach as Saleh has been a hot head coaching prospect for the past several years. Instead, Khan, one of the only two principal owners of color in the NFL— the Buffalo Bills’ South Korean born Kim Pegula is the other—tabbed Urban Meyer, the former head coach of the University of Florida and Ohio State, as his guy. There is no certainty a Black owner would bring on a Black coach, GM or president.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans are the remaining teams yet to name a new head coach. The Kansas Chiefs’ skillful offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, is the leading Black head coaching candidate. However, the adjective Black should be dropped as a descriptor in his case—and all others for that matter. From the outset of this hiring cycle, Bieniemy should have been referred to as the leading candidate of the coaching pool. Full stop!

Nevertheless, it is the league, the culture, the country in which highly qualified Black men frustratingly navigate. American progress. No. To characterize owners’ behavior as unconscious bias may be ascribing them indefensible benefit of the doubt.