While the spotlight on this year’s Super Bowl can’t be ignored, neither can the NFL’s longstanding diversity problem.
The 2018 season started with eight head coaches of color, an all-time high first set in 2011, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). Then came “Black Monday” — the day after the last Sunday of the regular season that saw six head coaches fired, four of them Black.
A seventh coach was earlier dismissed in October. He too was Black. As of this writing, one Black has been hired to fill those vacancies.
“It is disturbing,” said TIDES Director Richard Lapchick in a recent MSR phone interview. In his 2018 Racial and Gender Report Card released two weeks ago, the NFL got an overall B but an A-minus in racial hiring and a C in gender hiring.
But Lapchick noted that between the NFL headquarters and the teams, “We continue to see a significant disparity in racial and gender hiring practices between the League Office and their teams.”
Racial hiring is up in the League Office from 2017 to 2018 in vice presidents and above (31 to 38), “but the teams need to do more in this area,” Lapchick pointed out. Yet overall racial hiring slipped slightly (28.4 to 28.3 percent).
NFL League Office gender hiring: Women down from 35.4 to 35 percent from 2017 to 2018 but up in the number of female VPs and above hired (45 to 50). However, only 18.2 percent of VPs and above positions are filled by females at the team level.
The Undefeated recently analyzed that since 2003, the year the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule, 108 head coaches were hired but only 20 were Black. Coaches of color are on the “hot seat” more often (52.4 percent) than Whites (about 29 percent).
For offensive coordinators, regarded as the preparation track for becoming a head coach, The Undefeated found that Whites are twice as likely to be OCs while coaches of color are almost twice as likely to be defensive coordinators.
The Rooney Rule, which requires that Blacks and other people of color be interviewed for head coaching spots, was strengthened last year — NFL teams now are required to go outside their organizations to interview a coach of color or interview someone on the League’s career development advisory panel list. “We will see at the end of the 2019 season if the Rooney Rule [changes so] that those numbers should go back up,” Lapchick said.
Four people of color started the 2018 season as general managers, but that number was cut in half at season’s end as one Black GM was fired and another retired. There were six GMs of color in 2017 and five in 2016.
Lapchick pointed out that the GM position is defined differently by some teams. “They call it different things on different teams,” he said. “It is a low percentage of GMs of color for sure.”
But Lapchick also tweeted a contrasting fact: The WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks have more women (president, GM, senior VP) and people of color (head coach, top assistant) in key positions, including two Black men as owners, than well over half of the NFL clubs.
With a league in which almost 70 percent of its players are Black, the burden of improving the low numbers of Black head coaches and general managers and other key positions must fall squarely on the White team owners. No NFL team has a Black majority owner.
“I’m optimistic,” Lapchick said. But when asked if real progress in diversity will be ever achieved, he said, “Confident is probably too strong a word.”