Seven years ago, American professional football reached a historic plateau when more than 20 percent of the National Football League’s 32 teams had Black head coaches.
One year later, that number fell to five Black head coaches with the firings of former Oakland Raiders’ coach Art Shell and former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green. But the ranks of African American head coaches rose back to seven at the start of the 2011 regular season.
Now, after the recent firing of Chicago Bears longtime coach Lovie Smith and Kansas City Chiefs coach Romeo Crennell, the number of active African-American coaches has fallen to three.
That’s a troubling fact, but perhaps such is overshadowed by the fact that of the eight new head coaches hired over the last couple of weeks, none of them is Black.
The NFL has in place a policy nicknamed the “Rooney Rule,” which requires any team in search of a new coach to interview at least one candidate of minority descent. The Rooney Rule, named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, also the chairman of the league's diversity committee, was the driving force behind the surge in the number of Black coaches back in 2006.
But the rule has failed minority coaches in 2013 leaving critics pondering why a league with majority of its players being Black has so few Blacks coaching.
Perhaps the answer to this question leads us to an even more alarming question and dilemma: Why are there so few African-American general managers in the NFL? The GM position is responsible for a team’s coaching staff. And if a Black man can’t get a head coaching job, maybe it’s because there aren’t many similar faces around to hire him.
As of 2013, only four African Americans hold general manager titles: Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens, the first in NFL history; Jerry Reese, architect of two New York Giants Super Bowl title teams in five seasons; Martin Mayhew of the Detroit Lions; Rod Graves of the Arizona Cardinals and Reggie McKenzie of the Oakland Raiders.
It’s a truly puzzling reality that there are currently more Black GMs than Black head coaches, but maybe even more puzzling is that none of the current Black GMs has ever hired an African-American head coach.
I carefully use the term puzzling because that’s only way to describe such a reality. It’s hard to call it racism, because I don’t believe any of these Black men displayed racial discrimination against another Black man during the hunt for head coaches.
Perhaps the same can be said about the White general managers of the NFL. Although most of them may not have hired any Black head coaches, that shouldn’t be mistaken for racism.
However, it is a reflection of the lack of diversity that still exists in the management department of NFL, regardless of the root or motive. This lack of diversity also extends as high as the owner’s box, where no African American has ever held the title of principal owner of an NFL team.
These facts support the notion once presented by New York Times columnist William Rhoden in his best-selling book, The $40 Million Slave. Rhoden stated that the next step toward the goal of full social and racial equality in the U.S. is to establish diversity in the administration and ownership of not only our sports industry, but in every other facet of our society. And until that goal becomes a reality, we will never truly be a society of equals. How to pull this feat off is a great challenge. But for starters, maybe it’s time to expand the Rooney Rule into the ownership box.