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Recent Head Coach Hirings Spotlight NFL's Lack Of Diversity


All right, the regular season in the NFL is over; the playoffs have started. This means that the coaching carousel in the league is in full swing. Several new head coaches have replaced those fired after dismal performances, and the newcomers are all white men. This is fueling new criticism about the lack of diversity in the NFL. Only three of the 32 teams in the league have African American head coaches, and this is a league, we should say, where the vast majority of players are black. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith goes off so often his rants can get lost in the sports bloviation universe. Yesterday's diatribe was hard to ignore.


STEPHEN A SMITH: We got a problem. This is some BS. Ain't no way around this. We moving in the reverse direction. Black men are not being treated fairly in the National Football League.

GOLDMAN: That was a criticism long before the three new head coaching hires of the past few days - all white men, one a college coach with no NFL head coaching experience. The 2003 Rooney Rule sought to address the racial imbalance by mandating teams had to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring coaches. Since then, the numbers have fluctuated from a high of eight minority head coaches in 2011, 2017 and '18 to the current low of four, including three African Americans.

Dr. Richard Lapchick directs the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. He figured because of the fluctuations the process was cyclical.

RICHARD LAPCHICK: Two years in a row it stagnates at four head coaches of color. That is no longer cyclical. This is something to be very concerned about.

GOLDMAN: Beyond the Rooney Rule, the NFL has organized an event the past two years that allows young aspiring African Americans to network with established NFL coaches and execs as a way to possibly get into a coaching pipeline. Teams have created minority coaching fellowships.

There's a lot of talk about equity, justice and representation - all important ideals, says longtime sports sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards. He's worked on diversity in hiring in the NFL since the 1980s. But Edwards says ideals mean little if NFL owners, almost all of whom are white, don't see value in hiring African American coaches.

HARRY EDWARDS: At the end of the day, it's transactional, and we have not come up with a formula that puts greater value and premium on hiring at least representative numbers of minority coaches.

GOLDMAN: One obvious transactional formula...

EDWARDS: A succession of winning black head coaches.

GOLDMAN: That's a ton of pressure on the league's current three black head coaches. But they've got a ton of supporters. Nearly 70% of NFL players are African American, including Russell Okung, a veteran offensive lineman for the LA Chargers. He told nfl.com, players take notice any time somebody with shared experience moves into a position of authority or is delegated any sort of power; it's just another example to show you what's possible in the NFL.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.


Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.