More than 70% of NFL players today are people of color, according to a recent report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. While that number isn’t quite as high as it is in the NBA, it reflects a healthy level of diversity. More than ever before, players are judged primarily on their athletic skills and abilities.
Unfortunately, the inclusivity among the NFL players is not reflected when it comes to coaches and general managers. Analysts have pointed out the problem for years, but it only seems to worsen in recent history. The lack of black general managers specifically highlights the NFL’s inclusivity problems. Let’s look at the issue and the ways the NFL is trying to right the ship.
The NFL’s inclusivity problem
A few statistics make the inclusivity issues in the NFL blatantly clear. Let’s start at the coaching level. According to FiveThirtyEight, not even 10% of NFL coaches are African American. In fact, following the 2019 season, not a single one of the five head coaches hired was African American. The overall number of black coaches (three) remains the same as it was back in 2003.
The problem arguably gets even worse when you look at general managers. After Ozzie Newsome stepped down as the Baltimore Ravens GM in 2019, one black general manager was left in the NFL, the Dolphins’ Chris Grier. As recently as 2016, however, the NFL had seven African American GMs. In other words, inclusivity at the front-office level has trended in the wrong direction.
What is the Rooney Rule?
Those sobering statistics show what’s wrong in the NFL today. The issue becomes even more baffling when you consider that the NFL introduced the Rooney Rule nearly 20 years ago to combat this exact issue. The league named the rule after the late Dan Rooney, former chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as the NFL’s diversity committee.
In 2003, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule, reports SB Nation. The rule first stipulated that NFL teams must interview a minimum of one minority candidate when hiring head coaches. In 2009, the rule expanded to include general manager and other front-office positions. In 2018, recognizing that the rule had not created the desired results, the league strengthened it to promote stronger efforts of inclusivity.
Rethinking the NFL’s diversity approach
By most accounts, even the retooled Rooney Rule has failed to increase diversity at coaching and managerial levels. As the issue keeps trending poorly, the outcry grows louder. Many NFL officials have responded by acknowledging the problem and voicing support for a more proactive and effective solution.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken up about the NFL’s diversity problems on many occasions, publicly stating, “We are not where we want to be.” Art Rooney II, son of Dan Rooney and current head of the diversity workplace committee, has also been vocal about shoring up the diversity requirements.
In January, Rooney II acknowledged, “There just weren’t many minorities in the process at all this year,” while reiterating Goodell’s position that the league isn’t where it wants to be. NFL players like Richard Sherman have also voiced their frustration. Yet, in order to solve the problem, the league must convince owners to take meaningful action.