The Forgotten Barrier in the NFL
During Super Bowl Weekend, the media gave much attention to two African Americans making coaching history. Unfortunately, many barriers, such as the lack of graduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the National Football League, are still present as African Americans fight for a level playing field in the front office of professional sports.
Regal Magazine sat down with Tony Wyllie, Vice President of Communications for the Houston Texans, and Langston Adair, Sales Representative for the Oakland Raiders, to talk about their experiences as HBCU graduates working in the front office of a professional sports team. Wyllie graduated from Texas Southern University, while Adair earned his undergraduate degree from Prairie View A&M University.
Regal: Is your degree from a HBCU respected on the same level as a degree from a White institution?
Adair: I would say it is. Being blessed with the opportunity to pursue and complete a degree in architecture was a daunting but rewarding accomplishment for me. It opened up doors to other avenues other than just architecture. It taught me discipline and consistency. It didn’t hurt to also apply and complete my Masters for the University of Houston (Sports Administration).
Wyllie: I can’t answer that. I assume so because how do you explain my rise from intern to Vice President. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve that if my degree was not respected.
Regal: What are some of the hurdles you face as a NFL executive from a HBCU?
Adair: Learning the ropes and trying to move up the social ladder.
Wyllie: Because of the fact that I am Black in corporate America, I always have to prove myself everyday. Everyday you have to work twice as hard even if you didn’t go to a HBCU.
Regal: Do your co-workers view your degree any differently?
Adair: Actually, my co-workers respect the fact that I was able to obtain an undergraduate degree such as mine. Many of my colleagues have come from big and small schools all over the nation and many of them have studies in various undergraduate programs. I am one of seven people who have either accomplished an advanced degree or are still pursuing one. What makes that number more impressing is the fact I am one of the two who are African American.
Wyllie: That is hard for me to say. I would have to ask them. They know how much I love TSU (Texas Southern University). But I hope they don’t.
Regal: What are some of the advantages of being a HBCU graduate in regards to working for a NFL franchise?
Adair: I would say speaking with players and other administrative persons that have come from the same HBCU community. It is a built rapport that is unique and humbling. You can also speak with the minority community and have some continuity with them.
Wyllie: When you go to a HBCU and work in sports, you learn how to do more with less. You then get more tools in the NFL. It makes you really appreciative and it enables you to take your talents to the next level. At a HBCU you learn to multi-task.
Regal: Do NFL franchises make a conscious effort to recruit front office personnel from HBCUs?
Adair: I believe that if you have talent or a skill they will make the effort to find you. I also believe that individuals need to be aware and proactive in their pursuit in fulfilling their dreams or professional careers.
Wyllie: I know I do. When I got my job with the Tennessee Titans, I went straight to Tennessee State to recruit game day employees. I wanted to give them the same opportunities I had. Now you have 10 HBCU graduates working in public relations for NFL teams. Everyone makes effort to be diverse, but you have to bring in talented people.
Regal: What advice would you give a HBCU student who is interested in working for a professional sports franchise?
Adair: Students must understand that they can’t get into the profession at the top. You must be consistent, diligent and hard working. At some point your chance will come and when it does take full advantage of it and make the best of it. Another way to embark into the profession is through sales. This is actually the way I got in. And just like the old cliché goes “once you are in, you are in.”
Wyllie: You need to network. Who you know gets you in the door, but what you know keeps you in the door. Send emails, seek a mentor and don’t take no for an answer. Go to conventions, make phone calls and get advice on how to get on right path.
Regal: Do you think things are improving for HBCU graduates?
Adair: I believe they are as long as instructors do what they need to do and the students do what they need to do. This is critical because you can almost bet that many of the students at the bigger schools are doing what they need to do in order to beat others out. Unfortunately, many of the big schools have decision makers in the executive level and it leaves others from HBCUs out.
Wyllie: Absolutely. Things are improving for our people as a whole, not just HBCU grads. Take Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching in the Super Bowl for instance. Their success will also help corporate America see that African Americans can be excellent decision makers. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that once we are given opportunities we will exceed expectations. But we still have a long way to go as far as Black general managers.
Regal: What improvements need to be made?
Adair: I think that any student coming from a HBCU needs to understand that getting into sports is a rewarding and fulfilling career. It is also a lot of work. The biggest misconception is that many students believe that they can come in at the top (i.e. sports agents, marketing to major corporations, etc.). It takes a lot of hard work and diligence. I also believe that universities need to address sales as a critical piece in entering the sports world. Many colleges and universities, big and small, address other issues that are important but not as important as sales. Many of your high level executives and administrators got their opportunity in sales.
Wyllie: We need to improve our communication skills. People need to be able to write to work in public relations. Websites at HBCUs are outdated. We need to be able to keep up with technologies such as You Tube. It is important that we tale advantage of websites for marketing and promoting. We must also be aggressive, persistent and determined.
Regal: What would you say to NFL franchises that are reluctant to hire HBCU grads?
Adair: I believe that it is important that not only the NFL but other leagues need to address this situation. African American have made great strives in basketball and football. I do believe that overall we could improve.
Wyllie: Shame on them. They are losing out on opportunities to get talented individuals. A large number of Black college graduates come from HBCUs. Those talented individuals will improve their organization.
Regal: What can HBCUs do to improve their students’ chances of obtaining employment with the NFL?
Adair: As mentioned previously, I believe that fundamental training in sales is important and I would go as far and say critical for the success of aspiring HBCU students to make it into sports.
Wyllie: They can reach out regionally to professional teams in their area. HBCUs should help their students get their foot in the doors and get a reputation of sending good students as interns. It is important that they form relationships with different departments. Students should let teams know who they are and that they will go wherever the opportunities are. The schools should make sure the kids are prepared by working in the school’s athletic department. Once you are given an opportunity, take it to the next level.
Todd A.Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.