Section: Sports

NFL still has a race issue

NFL still has a race issue

Coach Robert Saleh | ALL-PRO REELS VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Earlier this month, the NFL concluded their hiring cycle for general managers and head coaches. After a year of changes throughout the league due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring practices seem to have stayed the same. Out of seven openings for head coaching positions, only two teams, the New York Jets and the Houston Texans, hired individuals identifying as Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC). 

The Jets hired former 49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh, while the Texans brought in former Ravens assistant David Culley. With the two additions, there are still just five minority head coaches in the 32-team league. These patterns have continued despite the creation of the Rooney Rule in 2003, which requires NFL teams to interview at least two minority candidates for team management positions. 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed disappointment in the lack of minority representation in this hiring cycle. “They’re not the outcomes we wanted, and we’re committed more than ever to make sure we do that,” he said. “But we want it to be a natural process.” 

Goodell had promised to combat this lack of representation in his state of the league address last year. In November, Goodell announced plans to give draft pick compensation to teams whose minority staff were hired by another team. According to the NFL resolution, teams losing minority personnel will receive third-round compensatory picks. 

Much of the controversy surrounding the lack of minority representation has centered around Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Many credit Bienemy with helping develop the Chiefs’ explosive offense, centered around star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who led Kansas City to back-to-back Super Bowls. After being denied a head coaching position the past three seasons, many are looking to Bienemy as an example of unfair hiring practices within the league. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, like many of his colleagues, was surprised at Bienemy being overlooked. “I’m glad I have him, but I’m not so glad I have him. I was really hoping he would have an opportunity to take one of these jobs,” he said.

Other obstacles in Bieniemy’s way include current teams looking to hire former head coaches, and not coordinators, who have less experience. Additionally, most head coaches are hired at the beginning of the calendar year, making Super Bowl-coaching personnel limited in eligibility.

Some have suggested that changing the timing of the hiring cycle could bring more diversity into coaching staffs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians is in favor of moving the hiring cycle to after the Super Bowl, but expressed doubts about the integrity of a potential move. “I know everybody’s gonna go behind their back anyway, and agents will have agreements with people, but I think the hiring process should wait until after the season,” Arians told reporters. 

The NFL has a history of failing to support minority communities and only recently has admitted their failures in addressing the peaceful protests of Colin Kaepernick that started in 2016. The league used their influence this summer during a period of American racial reckoning by pledging to donate $250 million over 10 years to combat systemic racism. In addition, the aforementioned Rooney Rule was updated in May of 2020 to include women and increase the number of required minority candidate head coaching interviews from one to two. 

Many within the league are still pushing for further change, such as removing the draft incentives. “I’ve never been in favor of rewarding people for doing the right thing,” said former Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy. Some other ideas include better enforcement of the Rooney Rule, along with creating fellowship programs for coaches of color to gain experience. As of 2019, people of color make up 70% of NFL team rosters, while totaling only 10.2% of management positions. The NFL will need to do more to address this imbalance as they work towards the draft in late April.

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