Matt Farnham:NFL seeking a balance on issue of recruiting ethnic minorities

Among 32 franchises, only four have head coaches who are minorities
Brian Flores of Miami Dolphins is one of only four current head coaches among the 32 NFL clubs who represent ethnic minorities. Picture: Getty.Brian Flores of Miami Dolphins is one of only four current head coaches among the 32 NFL clubs who represent ethnic minorities. Picture: Getty.
Brian Flores of Miami Dolphins is one of only four current head coaches among the 32 NFL clubs who represent ethnic minorities. Picture: Getty.

Later today the latest round of NFL owners meetings take place in a virtual environment, as all meetings seem to do these days, and the agenda for the meetings will take in many aspects including the potential reopening of NFL facilities as early as today.

Another issue that is high on the list is the continued lack of diversity in upper management of NFL teams and a proposed incentive for hiring minorities is improved draft picks.

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The NFL ownership has only two minority owners in Jacksonville Jaguars’ Shahid Khan and Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula. Still, in a world where the Carolina Panthers sold for a little under 
£2 billion, it will come as no surprise to find only the super-rich, and a vastly white majority can afford to buy in.

But in a league that, according to recent studies, is 70 per cent African American, why is it that the coaching system currently only has four head coaches who are minorities?

The NFL has been aware of the lack of minorities hired in positions of power and introduced a rule by which each team has to interview a person of ethnic minority. The rule introduced in 2003 aimed to open the door for more equality.

However, 17 years later its success is still to be noted. Only three of the last 20 head coaching hires have been those of ethnic-minorities and only four such head coaches are currently in jobs, while in the general manager role there are only two among the 32 teams.

Also, nepotism has long been a factor in the coaching systems within the NFL. Bill Belichick’s coaching staff includes two of his sons, one of whom – Stephen – took over defensive play-calling last season.

This isn’t a new thing. If you look around the league you will find family dynasties such as the Shanahans, the Shulas and Ryans.

The problem is evident on the field too. Among the predicted started quarterbacks for the 2020 opening day, of the 32 teams there are only a quarter of the league starting with minority onfield play-callers.

So 13 years after introducing the Rooney Rule, the league’s owners are set to discuss another significant move towards bringing equality to the upper echelons.

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The latest idea is to improve the draft picks for teams that hire minorities as head coaches or general managers, creating an incentive to owners to look harder at an ethnic-minority candidate.

The proposal is that a team which hires a minority head coach will move up ten picks in the third round, while the hiring of a general manager could result in the moving up of six places. They also propose that the team could complete both and move up the 16 spots.

When the information was leaked late on Friday the reaction was spread across the spectrum. Some people immediately jumped to the conclusion that teams will use this to their advantage one season only and remove both the head coach and general manager the year after. Others praised the honesty of the owners to come forward and say we aren’t doing enough.

The truth of the matter is a little of both.

NFL owners are probably not as motivated to win as a club such as Celtic or Rangers. They make a profit either way, so while I think an owner taking a year of their team’s life to make a slight improvement is silly, the idea of shared revenue is something that can affect their desire to win.

The flipside to that, of course, is that the NFL is a very savvy PR machine and knows that even admitting they have a problem and then saying they are trying to address it can mean a considerable boost in reputation and with it commercial dollars.

But the whole truth of the matter is the NFL is trying to find a balance, something most corporations of their size have little time for. The NFL is setting a path, and whether today’s meeting signs off on the new initiative or not, it still shows the league is willing to try which is so much more than most American corporations.

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