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NFL has a minority leadership gap

The 2019 NFL regular season has drawn to a close. While some teams move on to the playoffs, a handful of others not playing in January have already opted to change head coaches and general managers in hopes of improving. This is a standard operating procedure in the NFL. What many found upsetting, however, was the lack of minorities hired to fill these four positions – the well-established Ron Rivera, who is Hispanic, was the only minority hire.

Despite black players dominating the league since the ‘70s, critics complain that there are few blacks or minorities in the NFL’s leadership positions. Art Shell was the first black head coach when the Raiders hired him in 1989. Soon Dennis Green, Tony Dungy and others followed. However, critics argue that there have been too few and those hired have been fired more quickly than their white counterparts – Tony Dungy was famously fired by the Buccaneers in 2002 after rebuilding that team so John Gruden could ride it to a Superbowl win the following year. Of course, Dungy eventually won it all with the Colts before retiring.

The Rooney Rule

The NFL instituted the Rooney Rule in 2003, which directed all NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any head coach or general manager position. The rule has not been particularly successful in increasing the number of minorities in leadership positions. Some skirted the issue by interviewing other coaches on the team for the head position, while some others interviewed people they had no interest in hiring.

There have been as many as eight minority head coaches working as recently as 2018, but that number this year has dropped to four (with Rivera hired by the Redskins joining black coaches with the Steelers, Dolphins and the Chargers). There are two general managers of color in the league.

More troubling is the fact that 75% of all firings in these positions are minorities. This adds up to a B- ranking by Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which also considered gender in its hiring metrics.

Lack of candidates?

Many critics see the problem as a lack of candidates. The most common stepping stone for the head coach job has been offensive coordinator – there are currently two offensive coordinators of color versus ten defensive coordinators of color. Critics also complain that minority coaches are often stuck with programs in disarray; thus, they already have the deck stacked against them.

Diversity in sport is a strength

Diversity in sports (and other businesses) is a great way to build effective team chemistry. This fact seems lost on billionaire owners who are predominantly white, male and old. Teams should feel free to hire the candidate they want to hire, but they can do a lot more to foster diversity among their leadership.

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