The NFL Takes Step Toward Tackling Its Diversity Issue With Hiring of Maia Chaka

The NFL took a giant step forward in addressing its diversity problem Friday. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been bashed because of the lack of Black head coaches in the league. The NFL took a step in the right direction by announcing the hiring of Maia Chaka as its first Black female official Friday. Chaka will be on the field when the 2021 season kicks off.

The NFL took heat for not hiring more Black coaches this year

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The NFL took some criticism this offseason when its list of Black head coaches remained at three. In a league that’s made up of roughly 70% Black players, only three of the 32 head coaching positions are filled by Black coaches. It had been down to two after the Los Angeles Chargers fired Anthony Lynn, but the Houston Texans signed David Culley. Culley joins Mike Tomlin and Brian Flores as the NFL’s three Black coaches.

“My feelings are (the results were) lackluster, simply because of what took place on the head coach side,” said Rod Graves, executive of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a group that helps champion diversity in the NFL. “We only had one Black head coach hired in the period. If you consider Robert Saleh (New York Jets) as a person of color, then we have two. But given the fact that we had seven openings, I think the expectation certainly was that we’d do better than having one Black coach hired.”

Graves said he believed the NFL improved in other areas, but head coaching wasn’t one. “Overall, I think there were some gains,” Graves said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “We were certainly just disappointed in the fact that we didn’t have the progress on the head coach side that we had certainly felt we worked for, not only the Fritz Pollard Alliance but the league office and others who were certainly interested in that area.”

There was an improvement in front-office hirings

While the NFL failed to expand its list of Black head coaches, it made some improvements elsewhere. The NFL made strides with some top-level positions in the front office. This offseason, there were three teams that hired Black general managers after there were just two during the 2020 season.

Martin Mayhew (Washington Football Team), Brad Holmes (Detroit Lions), and Terry Fontenot (Atlanta Falcons) were the three Black general managers hired this offseason. Overall, seven GM positions were filled. Prior to the three hires, Chris Grier (Miami Dolphins) and the Cleveland Andrew Berry (Cleveland Browns) were the only two Black GMs.

While the front-office hirings were promising, there were still some left scratching their heads when Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was bypassed again for a head coaching job. “Obviously, Eric has the highest profile because of the fact that he’s been a person of focus coming into it and coming out of last year,” Graves said. “Eric is a damn good coach, and there’s no reason why he should be excluded from our sidelines as an NFL head coach. For whatever reasons can be given — whether it’s reasons that have been put up in the past where he didn’t call plays, presentations weren’t great, whatever the case may be — they’re all erroneous and without merit.”

The NFL takes a giant step forward with the hiring of Maia Chaka

Maia Chaka made history when she was hired by the NFL as an on-field official. The league made the announcement Friday, making Chaka the first female Black official in the NFL. She will join Sarah Thomas as the only women to work an NFL game.

Chaka was elated to be the first Black woman to break through. “I am honored to be selected as an NFL official,” she said in a statement, according to ESPN. “But this moment is bigger than a personal accomplishment. It is an accomplishment for all women, my community, and my culture.”

“Maia’s years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance — including as part of the NFL Officiating Development Program — have earned her a position as an NFL official,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. “As we celebrate Women’s History Month, Maia is a trailblazer as the first Black female official and inspires us toward normalizing women on the football field.”