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The NFL should be embarrassed by their glaring lack of Black head coaches

The NFL should be embarrassed by their glaring lack of Black head coaches

The NFL should be embarrassed by their glaring lack of Black head coaches
January 28
12:00 2022

Correction: the story was updated to reflect the mention of coach David Culley. 

As the new hiring cycle begins for the National Football League and teams look to fill eight head coaching vacancies, the scarcity of Black head coaches around the league has been a heavy topic of discussion.

As of this publication, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the only Black head coach in the NFL. 

Nearly 20 years after the introduction of the Rooney Rule, a stipulation put in place by the NFL that requires teams to conduct an interview with at least one person of color for head coaching positions, the head coaching field is no more diverse than it was in 2003 when the rule was put in place.

Astonishingly, diversity amongst head coaches has dipped even further since then. In 2003, there were three Black head coaches in the NFL (Herm Edwards, Marvin Lewis and Tony Dungy).

Twenty years later and with the perceived assistance of the Rooney Rule ushering in more coaching opportunities for the African-American community, there is but one Black head coach across the entire league.

For a league where Black athletes account for nearly 70 percent of active roster spots, the infrequent hiring of Black head coaches is an especially difficult pill to swallow.

The omission of capable Black coaches is a head-scratching, disheartening exclusion, one that has plagued the league for decades. 

The reluctance for teams to hire Black head coaches becomes increasingly frustrating to see when one considers that Black coaches are not only hired infrequently in the NFL, but have historically been on much shorter leashes than their white counterparts.

This past season, David Culley of the Houston Texans and Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins (both Black head coaches) were fired after less than three years on the job. Culley was fired after enduring a lost season without franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson, while Flores was dismissed despite compiling 20 wins through two seasons.

Both firings felt like prime examples of scapegoating and shed light on how vicious the coaching lifecycle can be for Black coaches. This trend isn’t particularly new either. 

Out of the 23 all-time Black NFL head coaches, only five of them served in that role for four or more seasons. It is not just hard for Black coaches to get hired, but teams are quick to dismiss them if they aren’t living up to their lofty standards. 

In a league that publicly parades its willingness to be inclusive of all people, the league’s actions— particularly during the hiring cycle— detail a much more discriminative approach. 

Last year, the NFL began allowing players to wear anti-hate messages on their helmets in an effort to combat racism and racially-driven violence.

While allowing players to sport messages like “End Racism” to “It Takes All of Us,” the NFL may want to begin to deeply ponder these themes and begin to implement them in their league

If the league is not going to become more inclusive with their coaching and front-office hires, then things like the new helmet messages and the Rooney Rule serve as nothing more than public relations stunts. 

For the NFL to achieve equality and inclusion, they must change.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Jalyn Smoot

Jalyn Smoot

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