As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, Fritz Pollard Alliance recognizes that the struggle for equality is just as vigorous today as it was during the civil rights period. People of color are still contending with issues of opportunity, equal pay, and the presence of double standards in the workplace. Unfortunately, Black men and other men and women of color see these issues too often in the National Football League. Commissioner Roger Goodell and Art Rooney, Chairman of the NFL’s Workplace Diversity Committee, are committed to driving improvement. Various other owners and Head Coaches like Bruce Arians have been committed to this endeavor throughout their careers.
Thus far, the NFL hiring cycle of 2021 has not changed the rate of hires for Blacks as Head Coaches and primary football executives. This follows the 2020 Racial and Gender Report Card issued by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (Dr. Richard Lapchick), which gives the NFL failing (or near failing) grades in racial hiring for leadership positions. People of color represent sixty-nine percent (69%) of the players and thirty-five percent (35%) of assistant coaches. In contrast, the League has one president, three general managers, and three head coaches who are Black.
There are many outstanding candidates of color in the NFL. The pipeline is as strong as it has ever been. The issue is not in the sufficiency of capable executives; the problem is in the number of opportunities provided. The disparity in opportunities is mind-boggling. Exceptional performances of playoff coordinators like Eric Bieniemy, Todd Bowles, Byron Leftwich, Leslie Frasier, and Joe Woods face the possibility of not receiving a Head Coach position in 2021. The same applies to executives like Jerry Reese, Rick Smith, Reggie McKenzie, and many others. All capable of providing the vision, leadership, and expertise to lead a championship effort.
If we are to change the portrait of NFL leadership, then the responsibility has to extend to the players, the fans, the media, and NFL sponsors. It’s the only way to move the chains forward.