The NFL Tackles Diversity Issues

During the Annual League Meeting, the NFL has come up with an attempt to fix the league’s lack of minority coaches. 

Monday brought some exciting news for the NFL. Aside from the Bills and Erie County agreeing to build a new stadium with a 30-year lease, the NFL, during the Annual League Meeting in Palm Beach Florida, announced a few important rule changes for the upcoming season. None, however, were more interesting than the league’s attempt to address the lack of diversity relating to its coaches and its expansion of the Rooney Rule.

First, in order to combat the lack of diversity among current coaches, the NFL is implementing a new guideline:all 32 teams must hire a minority offensive assistant coach for the 2022-23 season. For the NFL’s purposes, the term “minority” in this context means either a: “female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority.” To add on to this, successful candidates are required to have at least three years of experience coaching collegiate or professional football. It’s clear that some thought was put into the requirement of it being an offensive coach. According to the NFL: “[i]n recent years, head coaches have predominantly had offensive backgrounds…We believe this resolution will assist greatly in continuing to source and identify diverse candidates earlier in their career, providing pipeline depth and furthering developing the diverse offensive pipeline.” The NFL is surely hoping to increase diversity among coaches and staff. As of now, 39% of coaches are people of color, increasing from 35% in 2021. Additionally, a “league-record 15 minorities are among the NFL’s defensive coordinators for 2022, according to league data.” 

The candidates hired will receive a one-year contract that includes a salary as well as other benefits. The NFL will use some league funds to reimburse teams up to $200,000 in 2022 for these new hires. 

To add on to this, the NFL added women into the Rooney Rule at all levels. According to ESPN, this means that women and/or people of color will satisfy teams’ requirement to interview two external minorities for top positions, including head coach. Pittsburgh Steelers owner and chairman of the NFL Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, Art Rooney II, noted (via ESPN) that: “The truth of the matter is that as of today, at least, there aren’t many women in the pool in terms of head coach.” However, the hope is that this “is going to change over the years.” Rooney didn’t seem too optimistic that there will be a larger portion of women coaching in the NFL, adding that: “we are looking at probably the early stages of women entering the coaching ranks, so we may be a little ways away before that becomes a problem.”

The news comes after Brian Flores launched a lawsuit against the NFL after being snubbed from  head coaching positions, with the teams hiring white candidates with no previous head-coaching experience over him. In a pretrial conference, Flores labelled the interview process with both the New York Giants and Denver Broncos as a “sham.” According to Jenny Vrentas and Ken Belson of the New York Times, “[s]everal team owners and coaches at the [league’s annual] meetings. . .suggested that the league will push back forcefully against Flores’s claims.”

As a direct response to the lawsuit, Roger Goodell also announced on Monday the creation of the “Diversity Advisory Committee,” a six-person committee that will “evaluate league and club diversity, equity and inclusion strategies and initiatives.” The panel is comprised of top experts in the DEI space, two of which are practicing attorneys, who work for firms that exclusively represent employers in litigation brought by employees. This suggests that the NFL’s goal for the panel is more about “getting advice on how to properly position [itself] against legal challenges and less about figuring out the right thing to do and doing it.” 

Across various media sources, a sentiment has clearly emerged. The new rules are a step in the right direction, but more work needs to be done in order to achieve a more diverse coaching atmosphere.  

Photo via: CBS Sports

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3L & Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal. Sad fan of the Philadelphia sports teams and Tottenham Hotspur. I enjoy writing and learning about the intersection of sports and business law, with a focus on the NHL. H2P!

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