Mike Tomlin Credit: Bill Moore photo

NFL owners have no commitment or intention to improve the expansive and growing racial gap that exists in its head coaching ranks. League commissioner Roger Goodell continues his redundant and empty rhetoric regarding addressing the issue while the owners conduct business as usual, keeping franchises’ most important non-executive leadership position overwhelmingly white.

Goodell provides the cover for owners to evade transparency and explicitly explain, stating factors, facts and data, why they continue to pass over highly qualified Black candidates for less experienced and accomplished white coaches. If you are one of the skeptical observers that is viewing the hiring of Brian Flores by the Pittsburgh Steelers through a conspiratorial lens, your thoughts are warranted even if unfounded.

When it was announced on Saturday that Flores will be the Steelers’ senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach, electronic and print media outlets, social media and direct conversations this writer had with some who have followed the goings-on of Flores’ federal suit against the NFL and three of its member teams, put forth multiple theories as to what led to Flores’ newest job.

Some have speculated that the long, close relationship between the Rooney and Mara families, owners of the Steelers and New York Giants respectively, is a plausible reason for the hire. The Giants are a plaintiff in Flores’ suit, as are his former employers, the Miami Dolphins and the Denver Broncos. By hiring Flores, cynics conjecture, the Steelers are attempting to mitigate some of the negative optics the Giants have had to confront.
Flores maintains race was the deciding factor in him not being offered the Giants’ head coaching job which instead was extended to Brian Daboll, a white former offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. Of all the motives ascribed to the Steelers, the most logical is Flores was added to their coaching staff because he is one of the most competent and effective practitioners in the sport.

Current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who has held that title since 2007, and is one of only two Black head coaches in the NFL—the other is Lovie Smith of the Houston Texans—has the gravitas and ethical compass to put aside the politics of football and do what’s best to improve his team.

The move will not alter the distrustful tenor the NFL’s deplorable record of its franchises bypassing Black men for head coaching jobs has spawned. Nor will it minimally influence Flores’ fight for accountability and systemic change.

“We congratulate Coach Flores on his new position with the Steelers and thank Coach Tomlin and the organization for giving him this great opportunity,” said Flores’ attorneys, John Elefterakis and Douglas H. Wigdor, in a statement on Saturday.

“While Coach Flores is now focused on his new position, he will continue with his race discrimination class action so that real change can be made in the NFL.”

It’s incidental that the Rooney Rule, established in 2003 and requiring NFL teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation positions, is named after the former Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who was the chairman of the league’s diversity committee. The committee has failed miserably in increasing the number of Black NFL head coaches as the league’s nominal racial equality initiatives have produced regressive results.

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