PHOENIX (AP) — The NFL took another step at the owners meetings to increase diversity throughout the league while continuing to face criticism and a lawsuit for lack of representation among head coaches.
Each team is now required to have a person in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion. Currently, 15 clubs have a DEI head and two others have someone leading that department and another one.
"They actually have to have specific roles and deliverables that are in their job description so that is a big thing," NFL executive Jonathan Beane said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The reason why that's so important is we have to have a single point of accountability at the clubs where they are focused on driving it throughout their organization, in football operations and coaching, in business operations, engaging with ownership to make sure that this is a priority throughout the whole ecosystem of a club."
The league has reached milestone points in diverse hirings in the front office, but critics point to the sidelines where there are only three Black head coaches in a sport that had 56.4% Black players in 2022.
The NFL now has seven minority team presidents, including five who are Black and three women, and nine general managers, including eight Black men.
But there are six minority head coaches overall. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and DeMeco Ryans (Houston Texans) give the league three Black head coaches entering a season for the fifth year in a row.
"While increased diversity in executive roles could lead to increased diversity on the sidelines, progress on this front has remained stagnant for years," said Devan Rawlings, the author of Revelio Labs' NFL report. "The NFL has a significant disparity between the diversity of its players and that of its coaching staff — the largest among men's major leagues — and this has not changed despite a large pool of diverse former players that could meet a demand for coaching talent."
Brian Flores, the former Miami Dolphins head coach, sued the league and three teams last year, saying the NFL was "rife with racism," particularly in its hiring and promotion of Black coaches. Flores was an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season and is the new defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.
"I will acknowledge our representation of diverse head coaches, in particular Black head coaches, is certainly below our expectation and is not where anyone wants it to be or knows it needs to be," said Beane, the senior vice president, chief diversity and inclusion officer for the NFL.
"We have way too much talent out there to have the representation among the head coaches that we have. However, I think it's really, really important to look at other areas that are CEO-type positions, that are critical positions to the success or failure."
The number of minority presidents and GMs are the most in NFL history. The league didn't even have its first Black president until the Washington Commanders hired Jason Wright in August 2020. Kevin Warren (Chicago Bears), Sashi Brown (Baltimore Ravens), Sandra Douglass Morgan (Las Vegas Raiders) and Damani Leech (Denver Broncos) have joined him in the past two years.
Just four years ago, Miami's Chris Grier was the only Black GM in the NFL. Kwesi Adolfo-Mensah (Minnesota Vikings), Ryan Poles (Chicago Bears), Andrew Berry (Cleveland Browns), Martin Mayhew (Washington Commanders), Brad Holmes (Detroit Lions), Terry Fontenot (Atlanta Falcons) and Ran Carthon (Tennessee Titans) have joined him.
"And we know we still can do better," Beane said. "Those are roles that are extremely vital. There is no role that is less important than the other. Head coach is vital, but GM is just as important. President is just as important. They all drive to the success of the organization and you need all three of those thriving in order to be successful. And so when we look at whether we're making progress, we have to look at all of the roles in an organization, especially in senior roles. So it's not just head coach. All of these other roles are vital and determine the success and failure of a club."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell agrees there's room for improvement.
"We still feel like there's better work and more work ahead of us," Goodell said last month. "There's progress, and we're pleased to see progress, but it's never enough. We always look to sort of say, ‘How can we do better?'"
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