The NFL Is Living In The Past

The league needs to do more to address the lack of Black head coaches

Super Bowl LVIII brought in over 123 million viewers, becoming the most-watched telecast of all time.
Photo courtesy of @NFL/Instagram

The National Football League (NFL) is no stranger to issues with inclusion. In February 2022, a Black former head coach sued the league, claiming it was “rife with racism,” particularly in their hiring practices for head coaches.

The NFL is ancient in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts and needs to better tailor their initiatives to align with modern inclusion practices.

In the NFL’s 104-year history, only 25 out of 524 head coaches have been Black. Three of those Black head coaches were hired in just the last two years, and two in the last two months. The number of teams with a Black head coach currently stands at six out of 32 teams, which is sadly a record-high number for the league.

As an avid sports fan and journalist, I rarely see the sports world analyzed from a lens of social justice, or leagues being held accountable for their unjust practices. More importantly, as a Black man, I see how far behind the NFL is concerning awareness and sensitivity of social justice issues in comparison to its counterparts. 

In June 2023, the NFL was made up of 56.4% Black players, but roughly 5% of the teams were headed by Black coaches. In comparison, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is made up of approximately 70% Black players, and Black head coaches lead more than 50% of teams. The difference in the ratios paints a sad picture of professional football.

The NFL has made efforts to increase the diversity in upper-management positions by instituting the Rooney Rule in 2003, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for coaching and executive positions, and further incentivizes them with draft pick compensation if they are hired.

Incentivizing diversity? I’m sure whoever came up with this rule thought it was genius, but it seems more like giving teams a cookie for doing what’s right.

The Rooney Rule is ineffective, a “sweep it under the rug” solution. Sure, on a surface level, there has been an increase in Black head coaches, but again, that increase is literally six people — still vastly under-representative.

With this line of thinking, minority coach candidates are simply a box to be checked off. Rather than leveling the playing field, the rule makes Black candidates appear to be in the conversation just because they have to be.

The Rooney Rule is like when your parents make you bring your younger sibling to hang out with your friends. Yeah, your younger sibling is happy to be around the big kids, but in reality, you dread their presence and don’t want to piss off your parents. Black candidates for head coach positions can rise to the top through less dehumanizing means.

The NFL dominates other American sports leagues in viewership by a large margin, with ESPN reporting that the league averages 17.9 million viewers per telecast. This week, the NFL set the record for second most watched telecast of all time with 123.4 million viewers for Super Bowl LVIII, following only the Apollo Moon Landing in 1969. As of the most recent data available, the NFL earned $18.6 billion in revenue in 2022. A large portion of this sum comes from the efforts of the Black players, and even more so their coaches, who appear on our screens every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday. It is unacceptable that the league does not do more to even the ratios of Black players to coaches.

The most sought-after coaches are those who are experienced and of a winning pedigree, but there is no way to gain experience without giving the community access to the tools needed to do so. Starting at the executive level is backward, the league should repeal the Rooney Rule and focus on organically changing the league culture.

In the NBA, when there is a head coach opening, the NBA commissioner, deputy commissioner, or Executive Vice President will contact teams offering resources to ensure a diverse hiring process, which includes a database of more than 400 coaches within the league and its affiliates. The NBA also has a program that helps former players start working towards a career in coaching.

Though it is a longer process, programs like these provide a generational solution rather than temporary ones. Bringing coaches up from lower-level coaching roles, then to coordinating, then head coaching, and then to executive positions gives them a better opportunity to gain the knowledge to succeed for a longer amount of time.

The NFL is getting lapped on diversity, and without addressing these issues soon, the league will find itself not up to modern ethical standards.

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor:Jordan Premmer, Opinion Editor: Chisom Okorafor, Sports Editor: Chase Darden

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