SAN DIEGO — The National Football League’s lack of Black head coaches is back in sharp focus this week, driven by a new lawsuit from former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who alleges racist hiring practices on the part of the league.
After the annual round of firings following the conclusion of the regular season, including the Dolphins letting Flores go, the NFL has one remaining Black head coach: The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin.
The NFL and three teams named in the coach’s lawsuit have denied wrongdoing, and the case remains in its early stages. But the lawsuit is far from the first time that the league has been questioned over diversity in leadership.
The NFL’s Rooney Rule, introduced in 2003, requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates for head coach, coordinator and other team leadership roles. As the Associated Press reports, in the time since that rule was passed, 27 of 127 head coaching jobs have gone to minorities.
Both head coaches headed to Super Bowl LVI later this month are white. The last time a Black head coach made it to the Super Bowl was in 2011, when Tomlin and the Steelers lost to the Packers. Before him, there were just three other Black men who took their teams to the big game.
So what will it take to get more Black coaches at the forefront of the country’s most-watched sport? FOX 5 checked in with a veteran sportswriter who has access to some of the league’s most powerful figures.
“Whenever that question is asked, or whenever I might say it to a Black who wants to be a head coach or general manager, the response I get is ‘Why are we getting asked to fix a problem that we didn’t create, and why are we being asked to provide solutions to something that we have no power over?’” NFL Network’s Jim Trotter said.
Trotter believes the issue starts with getting into the hearts and minds of NFL owners, a position that’s never been held by a Black man or woman.
“When we’re not at the table when those discussions are taking place on who is going to be hired to run these teams, it makes it that much more difficult to get a level playing field and to get equity here,” Trotter said.
In his conversations with white people in charge about this issue, the veteran reporter says he finds that they get very uncomfortable.
“I had a conversation this year with an owner where I said to him point blank: ‘Why does the NFL have such an issue with hiring Black people into decision-making positions?’” Trotter said. “This owner and I talk frank with each other, and we had a lot of conversations, and his response to me made no sense.
“He started talking about things that didn’t apply to what I was asking him and ultimately, what he said to me is: ‘Look, if Blacks feel some kind of way, then they should go buy their own team and hire who they want to hire.’ And to me, that was the quiet part being said out loud.”
Aside from having diversity at the table when making these decisions, Trotter wants to see owners make a checklist of they’re looking for, as opposed to somebody who can give great answers at a press conference.
In a league that’s existed for more than 100 years, Trotter and many others are fed up from talking about an issue that never seems to see much progress.
“It’s exhausting, to be quite frank,” Trotter said. “I don’t just mean that as it relates to the NFL, I’m sure it’s like this in other professions as well. … The league office is doing everything it can to address this problem behind the scenes. The focus should be on the owners.”
“We are now at a point where we have to keep the spotlight on the owners,” Trotter continued. “And say to them: ‘What are you doing and why are these people not being hired?’”