In the National Football League, where players are overwhelmingly Black, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), joined a host of other voices arguing that there needs to be more representation in the front office of people who look like the athletes that take the gridiron each Sunday.
“Even before Coach Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the National Football League claiming the league discriminated against Black coaches in their hiring practices, it was pretty clear that professional football has a race issue,” Dr. Chavis wrote in an op-ed at BlackPressUSA.com.
The NFL’s halfhearted attempt nearly 20 years ago at diversity – the Rooney Rule – failed miserably.
The league enacted the measure in 2003 to mandate that any team seeking a head coach must interview at least one minority candidate. Four years ago, the league modified the rule, but coaches of color still haven’t received the same opportunities as whites.
Some argue the NFL did better before instituting the rule. Two years prior, the league had three African American head coaches: Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Bucs, Herm Edwards of the New York Jets, and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings.
At the start of 2021, the NFL still had three coaches: David Culley of the Houston Texans, Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins, and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Texans dismissed Culley at the end of the season, and Flores received his walking papers from the Dolphins.
Seven of the nine head coaching opportunities after the 2021 season went to white candidates.
Flores called the Rooney Rule a sham because teams only provided interviews to potential Black head coaches as a ruse to satisfy the league’s requirement.
“The league is rife with racism,” Flores alleged in his lawsuit.
Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the NFL “isn’t having the success we want.”
“I find all allegations, whether they were based on racism or discrimination or the integrity of our game, all of those to me were very disturbing,” Goodell pronounced ahead of Super Bowl LVI.
“They are very serious matters to us on all levels, and we need to make sure we get to the bottom of all of them.”
Goodell continued: “I think that’s the core of the message that we’ve been talking about here is, OK, we’re not having this success we want with head coaches. How do we evolve that rule, or do we have to have a new rule? Do we need to figure out some other way of being able to achieve that outcome?”
The league has reportedly met with Byron Allen, an African American businessman, to determine his interest in purchasing the Denver Broncos.
Dr. Chavis championed the potential interest of Robert F. Smith, the founder of Vista Equity Partners, who enjoys an estimated net worth of about $6.7 billion.
“Putting aside Smith’s investing acumen and ability to grow emerging businesses, his up-from-the-bootstraps story and expansive philanthropic work in the Black community would go a long way to changing the make-up of NFL ownership from its traditional purview of stodgy, old white men,” Dr. Chavis decided.
The belief remains that if more minorities buy teams – an admittedly difficult task for people of color to break into the exclusive ownership circle – opportunities for Black head coaches would become more plentiful.
In the meantime, civil rights groups argue the NFL needs to strengthen its Rooney Rule and force current owners to consider Black candidates seriously.
“However well-intentioned, the effect of the Rooney Rule has been for team decision-makers to regard interviews with candidates of color as an extraneous step, rather than an integral part of the hiring process,” said National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial in a statement.
“The gravity of the situation is long past the crisis point,” Morial declared.
The Rooney Rule remains absent of intentionality, NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson remarked.
“It’s not enough for the league to declare its good intentions. This is a long-standing crisis that must be confronted with diligence and rigor,” Johnson stated.