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NFL

Black NFL coaches make their views on diversity known

Though the NFL has tried to tackle the issue of diversity, it is clear in light of Brian Flores' recent lawsuit, that there is a lot of work to be done.

Update:
Though the NFL has tried to tackle the issue of diversity, it is clear in light of Brian Flores' recent lawsuit that there is a lot of work to be done.
Ron Chenoy

When the NFL implemented a policy in 2003 requiring teams to interview minority candidates for their head coaching jobs, there were just three non-white coaches in the league. Today there are five. Has anything changed? 

Anthony Lynn isn't sold on the NFL's diversity efforts

At present Anthony Lynn is the assistant coach of the San Francisco 49ers. A veteran in the league, Lynn is appreciative of the 'good intentions' behind the so-called Rooney Rule - named after former Steelers owner Dan Rooney who led the league's diversity committee - indeed one could argue that Lynn himself has been a beneficiary of the rule. Yet there is something that doesn't quite fit.

While the number of non white coaches as fluctuated slightly over the last 20 years, skepticism is as strong as it's ever been. Lynn, a black man, actually, saw an amendment made to the rule as a result of his own efforts, in that as his reputation grew from 2010 onward, he made it clear that he would only consider vacancies with teams if they had consulted with at least one other minority candidate before. At the time such a requirement was not part of league policy, though they would eventually implement the change in 2021. "I just didn't want to be a token interview," Lynn said. "I really believe in the spirit of the Rooney Rule, but I just saw how people were abusing it and I didn't want to be a part of that."

The fight for diversity in NFL has been long and hard

Of course the entire debate has intensified immensely in recent weeks after a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the NFL and several teams by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. Lynn for his part views the situation as one that is not unique to the NFL, citing similar circumstances in corporate America where minorities are still largely under represented. Lynn it must be said, has been fighting this for sometime and indeed saw his efforts rewarded in 2017, when the Los Angeles Chargers hired him and with that made him the first Black head coach in franchise history. There was, however, a darker piece of context to that scenario. One of the candidates which Lynn beat for the job was Teryl Austin - a black man. Austin who now serves as the defensive coordinator for the Steelers, later explained that prior to his interview he had experienced 10 other face-to-face meetings, but in each case was not hired. Austin would also go on to add that he felt he "was one of those guys where they were checking a box" in order to meet the Rooney Rule's requirements. Interestingly, Austin's personal journey is included in Flores' lawsuit as evidence of a discriminatory system that is failing qualified job candidates.

For more from the NFL

NFL's Roger Goodell has his say

On Wednesday, facing growing scrutiny on a number of fronts, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell partially pushed back, saying the league has made a "tremendous amount of progress in a lot of areas." Goodell did concede, however, that the league was still behind where head coaches are concerned. "We have more work to do and we've got to figure that out," Goodell said. Goodell also stated that the NFL had met with "outside experts" in an effort to review policies. The commissioner also mentioned the possibility of eliminating the Rooney Rule altogether. To that end, Art Rooney II - Dan's son and the current Steelers president - defended the impact of his father's heavily debated policy. "While I acknowledge that we have not seen progress in the ranks of head coaches, we have seen marked improvement in the hiring of women and minorities in other key leadership roles," he said.

What does the NFL's landscape look like?

When looking at the reality of the diversity situation in the league, it doesn't take long to see that little change has occurred where it counts. While over 30% of assistant coaches are Black, there are only two teams who currently have Black offensive coordinators. For context, the position is consider the last stepping stone to becoming a head coach. In contrast nearly 85% of the league's general managers and player personnel directors are white according to a report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. "This is a willingness and heart issue," said Troy Vincent, a former player who is now the league's executive vice president of football operations. "You can't force people, so we have to continue to educate and share with those in the hiring cycle."

What can be done about diversity in the NFL?

According to Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, players must also play a central role in pushing for change. Lapchick pointed to the NBA, where players have stepped up to the plate where social activism is concerned. Almost 50% of the NBA's 30 teams have black coaches and more than 25% employ Black general managers. "I don't think that the (NFL) office can do it on their own," Lapchick said. "The impact will only take place...when the athletes themselves raise their voice and say it's important." One should note that approximately 70% of NFL players are Black.

"The NFL is no different than the rest of society," said the 49ers' Lynn. "Look at the top Fortune 500 companies. How many minority CEOs do you have in that industry versus ours? Our percentage may be higher." If you're wondering more than 90% of Fortune 500 presidents and CEOs are white and only 3% are Black, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Change of course won't come overnight, in fact it's going to take a consistent effort over a period of time. As recently as 2020 former Morgan Stanley chief diversity officer Marilyn Booker sued the bank for racial discrimination and retaliation. Booker alleged that efforts to diversify the management structure were essentially derailed by the organization's largely white executive base. A settlement was eventually reached out of court.

In terms of a concrete strategy, is there one? According to Nicholas Pearce, clinical professor of management and organizations at North Western's Kellogg School of Management, there is. Pearce argues that one simple way to change the situation would be to simply have a more diverse panel conduct the interview process whether in sport or business. While that idea does seem logical, the reality is that the large majority of NFL teams are white owned. To date there are only two out of the 32 teams where controlling ownership by a minority can be seen. The Jacksonville Jaguars with owner Shad Khan and the Buffalo Bills with Kim Pegula, who co-owns the team with her husband, Terry.

Indeed, one can only hope that there will come a time when this scenario is nothing more than a memory of a time gone by. Jerod Mayo, a 35-year-old linebackers coach for the New England Patriots is hoping for just that. With ambitions of one day being a head coach in the league, Mayo - a Black man - remains positive about the prospects of diversity in the future. "You know, that's a beautiful day where we don't need the Rooney Rule."

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