National Football League: Making the Case for Diversity

By Meta J. Mereday


With African Americans following the principles of the late, legendary coach Vince Lombardi who stated that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” (with two African American coaches recently winning Super Bowls), diversity should be a top priority for the National Football League (NFL). 

However, two other professional sports leagues, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) are making strong cases for diversity and inclusion.  This is especially true on the professional basketball courts.

According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, the NBA was the only professional sports league that received a coveted “A” for race and gender in terms of diversity.

According to the Institute’s report, the NBA had eight African American head coaches along with four African American team presidents and 36 percent of the professional positions at the league office were held by minorities. These findings surpassed both football and baseball.  The need for more inclusive practices in the professional sports industry has been longstanding.

However, the NFL has been trying to change the face of the gridiron game and the Super Bowl wins by Tony Dungy with the Indianapolis Colts—who played against the Chicago Bears under African American head coach Lovie Smith—and   Mike Tomlin with the Pittsburgh Steelers further legitimized the fact that African American coaches could bring home the Lombardi Trophy. 

In 2009, the Institute gave the NFL a “B” and stated that the league was making what it termed as “sustained progress” in its recruitment efforts for African American head coaches and front office leadership.

In 2009, the NFL had six African American head coaches and five African American general managers within its 32 team framework.

Part of the problem, outlined in the report, is the lack of diversity and inclusive outreach for head coaches and decision making personnel at the college football level, which is the feeder base for the NFL.

The majority of college presidents, athletic directors and college coaches are White and efforts designed to recruit minorities as coaches continues to lag behind in the college ranks.

Outreach efforts spearheaded by the National Football League via its diversity committee and the “Rooney Rule” has increased outreach for promising minority candidates on the professional level, but much work is still needed. 

According to Scott Brown in the Tribune-Review in 2007,  the impact of the “Rooney Rule” was significant in not only improving recruitment activity for minority coaching candidates for the National Football League, but it also had the “reverse of a trickle down effect” regarding the impact on diversity in front office hires.  The spirit of the “Rooney Rule” led to the creation of awareness within the league about the importance of diversity and generated more opportunities for African Americans and other minorities in the NFL front offices.

The call to action for diversity in the professional sports industry has been longstanding and the National Football League needs to step up its efforts to diversify the talent pool on the field, on the sidelines and in the front office at all levels.  

Talented African Americans have more than proven their athletic prowess and strategic acumen to handle the ball and the play calling as well as the player selections and deal making.  Now, it is time for the NFL to fully engage the diversity mantra and one, two, three…HIRE!

Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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