June 12, 2024

NFL’s new mandate won’t stop owners’ racist hiring practices


(Photo by Maximilian Haupt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The NFL has tinkered with its policies and tweaked its practices on minority hiring for over 20 years now. Yet the league finds itself in the same position today—a couple of Black head coaches—as in 2003 when the Rooney Rule was implemented to increase diversity.

Forgive me for having little confidence that the new guidelines announced Monday will prompt meaningful change. 

Sure, all 32 teams are now required to have an offensive assistant coach who’s a person of color, meaning “a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority.” But some teams already have one or more coaches who fit that description, and we see where that’s gotten us. Black candidates went 1-for-9 in landing head coaching jobs this year. Instituting a mandate for assistant coaches won’t change owners’ hearts and minds when it’s time to fill the top spot. 

The number of qualified choices isn’t the problem.

Adding so-called “quota hires” to the pool isn’t the answer.

The notion of hired coaches based on race, ethnicity or gender is troubling, which isn’t to say the individuals are unqualified. Two things can be true. One can have impeccable credentials and receive preferential treatment.

Unfortunately, the latter typically applies to white coaches—even those who don’t possess the former.

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, whose father authored the original rule on mandatory interviews for minority candidates, is chairman of the league’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. He told reporters Tuesday, “We recognize we have seen progress on some fronts, but we still have a way to go on other fronts.”

They’ve certainly mastered the studying part. The owners’ diversity committee has been in place for two decades, but now it’s being joined by a new body—a diversity advisory committee—composed of business leaders, academics, and a former NFL general manager. These outside experts will evaluate the NFL’s policies and practices and “provide comprehensive recommendations to the league office and club ownership for consideration.”

There’s no need to spend more time and money on an issue that only desire can solve. Names and faces have changed over the years, but conditions remain the same for Black coaches. Advising the owners’ diversity committee on a fix is easier than reading fairytales to a kid.

Conclusion: The league is being racist. 

Recommendation: Stop being racist.

Discrimination in hiring head coaches isn’t addressed by forcing teams to hire minority assistant coaches. While it’s logical to think a fatter pipeline would yield better results, history screams “No! It doesn’t matter!” Look at the Rooney Rule. It has succeeded in ensuring that more minority candidates receive interviews, but a disproportionate number of jobs still go to white candidates.

(Can we talk about new Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel for a second? I have nothing against the man, and he’s free to identify himself however he chooses. The NFL identifies him as biracial. By that measure, Barack Obama is biracial, too, the son of a Black father and white mother just like McDaniel. But if Obama is considered the first Black president, can we consider McDaniel the umpteenth white coach? Him boosting the league’s minority count isn’t helping. I’m just saying.)

Critics undoubtedly are howling about this new decree that each NFL team must include a minority offensive assistant. They blather about hiring “the most qualified” candidate, under the assumption that a minority could never make the cut. We saw that dynamic as President Joe Biden prepared to nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court. An ABC News/Ipos poll found that 76 percent of Americans believed Biden should “consider all possible nominees” instead of honoring his campaign promise to nominate a Black woman.

For argument’s sake, let’s say teams consider all possible candidates for a job. After whittling down that vast pool, they’d have multiple candidates who arguably are equally qualified. That’s where intangibles and subjective factors enter the equation, and reasonable minds could disagree on which candidate is superior to the others.

But it’s unreasonable to suggest that Black candidates are never as qualified as the eventual hires. It’s quite possible that coordinators like Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich, and former coaches like Jim Caldwell and Raheem Morris, in fact, WERE the best candidates for recent top jobs they didn’t get. 

Maybe their complexion affects owners’ perception. Perhaps it’s subliminal.

What makes anyone think another two dozen assistants in the league will make a difference? Not that I blame coaches for accepting an offer. But they’ll be unfairly stamped as byproducts of affirmative action and still face the same, long odds. 

If owners continue to discriminate against Black coaching candidates, the NFL’s nips and tucks won’t cut it.

Only a wrecking ball might work.


Deron Snyder thegrio.com

An award-winning columnist and a principal of BlackDoor Ventures, Inc., Deron Snyder is a veteran journalist, stratcomm professional, author, and adjunct professor. A native of Brooklyn and an Alpha from H.U.-You Know, he resides in metropolitan DC with his wife, Vanessa, mother of their daughters, Sierra and Sequoia. To learn more, please visit blackdoorventures.com/deron.

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