The NFL can't wish their diversity problems away anymore
How many times can we use the phrase "The only way to address you have a problem is to admit you have a problem"?
I say this because as most of you who follow sports already know, the NFL has a big problem. A really big problem that got drawn out into the open last week--diversity in coaching.
Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a rather large lawsuit last week which raised some very legitimate questions about the league's commitment to have diversity within the coaching ranks. Flores filed the suit a few weeks after being let go by the inept Miami Dolphins despite having a winning coaching record and largely rebuilding a franchise many believed was nearly dead.
I won't belabor the details of the suit other than to say the man has a point.
By hiring biracial head coach Mike McDonald, the Dolphins now have one of four minority head coaches in the NFL. The other three--Robert Saleh of the Jets, Mike Tomlin of the Steelers and Ron Rivera (latino) in Washington. Yes, other minority coaches have been in the league in the past two decades, outside Tomlin, none have lasted at the job very long.
And no, four of 32 head coaches being minorities is not an example of being diverse. The NFL is largely played by minorities, by contrast, they hold 1 of every 8 available jobs in the league.
I know some will make the argument that teams are private businesses and should hire anyone they think is the "best qualified candidate". And to a point, that is not wrong. What's wrong is when the best available candidate is a minority who doesn't get the job. Yes, that is something incredibly difficult to prove.
I should also add--College Football, a game with hundreds more teams than the NFL has an even WORSE diversity problem than the NFL does. And no, they've done absolutely nothing to address it.
For years the NFL has patted themselves on the back because they implemented the "Rooney Rule" requiring teams to interview a minority head coaching candidate before hiring a new coach. That rule is largely a joke. Coaches clearly are being brought in strictly for teams to say they complied with the rule, sometimes teams completely ignore it. It's never enforced.
I understand that team owners such as Stephen Ross have the right to hire and fire people as they see fit, but almost nobody understands the reason Flores lost his job in Miami. The Dolphins have not been perfect and have holes, but on the whole are much more competitive than they were before Flores's arrival. I don't have behind the scenes insight and maybe the claim that he was difficult to work for was the problem. But that explanation is also a tough sell.
It's hard to believe that coaches like Eric Bienemy, Byron Leftwich and others haven't gotten a chance to lead a team while young, unproven coaches like Kliff Kingsbury have. Kingsbury got his job after the Cardinals let Steve Wilks go after one season. (raises eyebrow)
The situation to me smells an awful lot like the late 1970's-early 1980's when the NFL had no Blacks or minorities playing quarterback. There were whispers of racism at that time with the implication that team owners didn't believe a Black QB was smart enough to play the game at the highest level.
Yes really. It was a thing.
It took guys like James Harris of the Rams and Doug Williams of Tampa Bay and Washington having success before the idea of a Black QB was acceptable. And even after their success it was almost another decade before the topic drifted out of starting quarterback conversations. Which is ridiculous, but yet it happened.
I don't know if it is an NFL owner thing, an NFL perception thing, overt racism, lack of thought or just decisions being made without considering all the options--but something has to change. The billionaires who own NFL teams pretty much can operate any way they see fit and since the Commissioner (a.k.a Roger Goodell) works FOR them, his ability to force change is limited.
I'm not accusing anyone here of overt racism because while it is totally naive of me to believe people are inherently not racist, I'd like to think that professional football teams are above that. I would like to believe the owners and/or the league doesn't sit in their penthouse offices and say "We can't hire this person, he's Black and that means he won't be successful". That is beyond my comprehension.
There could be any one of a thousand reasons why coaching jobs are filled the way they are, but until the NFL and its owners are more transparent about it, there will always be questions. And until they start hiring people that are more representative of the player base to coach teams, the questions will and should continue.
Having Goodell put out a statement/letter to the teams stating the leagues hiring decisions and process are "unacceptable" and reiterating a commitment to diverse hiring processes and procedures AFTER the Flores lawsuit is at best disingenuous and at worst stating the obvious.
We shouldn't be at this point where it is a topic of discussion--yet we are here discussing it. Send this out before "Black Monday" in coaching circles. (The day after the regular season ends). Don't wait for a lawsuit accusing the league of being full of crap before putting it out there.
That's the problem in all of this to me.
On a week where the NFL should be celebrating its championship game (Super Bowl) and where they'll garner ALL the national headlines and TV viewers, this is a cloud that shouldn't be there. It won't get talked about during the build up to the game because this week will be all previews and happy talk about the game which kinda sucks.
But that's where we are. Maybe the lack of diversity will bubble back up to the top of the headline list after the game, I don't know. But I kind of doubt it.