The NFL’s diversity flaws

The NFL’s diversity flaws

Photo Credits: KATHERINE FRANKS / AGGIE

The NFL’s ongoing issues with racial inequality are a stark reflection of our society

The racial divide in the NFL is wider than ever. Given that only three of the 32 teams in the league have a minority head coach, it should come as no surprise that the NFL just earned its lowest score for racial and gender diversity hiring in 15 years. It is ridiculous that 90% of NFL head coaches are white when less than 30% of NFL players are.

Yet none of this is surprising at all. Who’s surprised when a bunch of rich white men are in charge of anything? It is the same reason why it took so long for the league to actually see multiple black quarterbacks. There is a racial bias built into the cracks of the NFL. Even this year’s leading MVP candidate, Lamar Jackson, was told by multiple teams that he would have to play a position other than quarterback because he was too athletic. 

The quarterback and center, two positions which are seen as the intellectual cores on offense, have historically been white –– white players still make up more than 80% of each position. This doesn’t mean that the teams drafting and signing these players are explicitly racist, it means that this issue is systemically racist and relates back to how we talk about talent in major media. 

A 2014 Deadspin investigation found that the word “leader” was more than two times as likely to appear in scouting reports for white players than it was for black players. And terms like “aggressive,” “discipline” and “disruptive” were used more than twice as often for black players than white players. 

The NFL has done very little to address this issue. The Rooney Rule, which was first implemented in 2003 and expanded most recently in 2018, mandates that teams must interview at least one or more “diverse” candidates for head coach, general manager and “equivalent” front office positions. The Rooney Rule has all the right intentions, but it cannot possibly begin to make up for the years and years of racial inequality that reflects the unequal practices we still see today. 

The most obvious reason for this? The NFL is just another reflection of the racial inequality of our society –– where white families earn $100 in income for every $57 earned by black families. The NFL’s system of predominantly white-owned franchises earning millions and billions of dollars off breaking-down the bodies of its majority black athletes reeks of that same racial inequality. Sure these athletes can get paid millions for their work on the field, but they should have the ability to take ownership of the league as well. It took the greatest NBA player of all time — Michael Jordan (owner of the Charlotte Hornets) — for professional sports to finally have an owner who understands what it is like to be a balck athlete in a white-dominated ownership system. 

The NFL has the same issue that our government has today — it is over-represented at its highest level by white men. In a sport where white players are nowhere near a majority, it is baffling that the overwhelming majority of coaches, GMs, owners and league managers are white. 

Texans owner Bob McNair even went so far as to refer to NFL players as “inmates” during the 2017 season when players were protesting during the national anthem. “We can’t have inmates running the prison,” McNair said. McNair issued an apology, only to later say, “the main thing I regret is apologizing.” 

The ownership level of the NFL will always be hard to crack in a country that makes it far too easy for the richest among us, the top 1%, to stay at the top, forcing others to struggle underneath. 

These owners are not elected to their positions where they run one of the 32 largest franchises in the world — they buy the position with billions of dollars. There are only two people of color out of the 32 owners in the NFL. But this problem is not just limited to the NFL: the three biggest American sports have just six people of color as majority owners. Old money dies hard. 

In a sport dominated by the success of black athletes, it is absurd that the same league is primarily owned, operated and profited off of by old, white men. The era of legacy hires in the NFL should have been over long ago, yet it still persists today. It needs to end now. 

Written by: Calvin Coffee –– cscoffee@ucdavis.edu

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