Week 11 in the NFL featured both disappointment and excitement. Joe Burrow’s devastating injury broke Cincinnati Bengals fans’ hearts. The New York Jets were officially eliminated from playoff contention. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs mounted an exhilarating comeback, and the Indianapolis Colts took home a thrilling win over the Green Bay Packers.
Lost in all of that drama was an arguably even more historic moment, one that unfolded in a tight contest between the LA Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That game set important milestones in ways that had nothing to do with the final score. Let’s look at three ways the Rams-Bucs game marked an important milestone in NFL history.
A first for an NFL officiating crew
Diversity has become a hot button topic in the NFL. Franchises face increased scrutiny over the lack of diversity in coaching and front office hiring. The league revised the Rooney Rule in May in an effort to help combat the continuing diversity problem. Nonetheless, the NFL still has a long way to go in its quest for true equity.
Week 11 marked a turning point — albeit one that has nothing to do with front-office executives. According to USA Today, the NFL has had Black officials since 1965, when Burl Toler became the first Black official in any sport. The recent Rams-Bucs game involved a similar milestone.
That game was the first time in NFL history that an all-Black officiating crew hit the field. As reported by ESPN, NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent had this to say about the decision in an official statement:
“This historic Week 11 crew is a testament to the countless and immeasurable contributions of Black officials to the game, their exemplary performance, and to the power of inclusion that is the hallmark of this great game.”
A milestone for the Bucs coaching staff
The Week 11 game also drew attention to a feat first achieved this season by the Buccaneers. Simply put, Tampa Bay has set a new standard for diversity in terms of a team’s coaching staff. According to USA Today, they are the first team in NFL history with three Black coordinators, Todd Bowles, Byron Leftwich, and Keith Armstrong. They’re also the first NFL team with two female assistants, Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar.
For that matter, the Bucs also have a Black assistant head coach in Harold Goodwin, as well as seven other specialist coaches who are Black (Mike Caldwell, Antwaan Randle El, Larry Foote, Roger Kingdom, Todd McNair, Kacy Rodgers, and Kevin Ross). Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians clearly understands the importance of diversity in coaching. He also made it clear to Yahoo Sports that quality remains his top priority in building a staff.
Highlighting the Rams’ racial history
Finally, the Week 11 match brought renewed attention to a feat the Rams made back in 1946. That year, they were the first NFL team to reintegrate, signing two Black players, receiver Woody Strode and running back Kenny Washington. For the prior 12 years, the NFL had had a color ban preventing Black players from joining teams no matter how qualified they were.
The Rams’ decision to break the ban opened the path for Black players in the league. Of course, changes were still slow to come, but LA still deserves credit for opening up the door to true athletic equality in the NFL. Recognizing these decisions today is an important step in promoting equality in all facets of the game.