Super Bowl LVI is this Sunday and is already set to be one for the record books. However, before we break out the hot wings, popcorn, nachos, and beverages, it’s time we have a little chat about what is really happening within the NFL. It’s about time we call out the blatant issues that no one wants to talk about and sweep under the rug, how they try to mask it, and discuss exactly what needs to change.
For decades American football has been a beacon of patriotism and has embodied what it means to be a stereotypical “American”. Think about it — what do other cultures think of when they think about the United States? Odds are a couple of things come to mind, one being Football, and another is probably racism. Unfortunate as that is — the two are deeply intertwined, yet we continue to turn a blind eye as a society to the injustice and hypocrisy embedded into the very core of the world’s most notorious sports league.
The uneducated reaction to this is that a league of predominantly Black talent can’t possibly be racist, because look at all the success these athletes have seen — but never judge a book by its cover. Beneath the surface of the National Football League, there is a pool of dominantly white men, who have likely never played the sport, running the show and leaving deserving and qualified black men by the sideline, quite literally. While the talent in the NFL is by majority Black males, the representation of Blacks within positions of leadership is nothing less than offensive. From the NFL Commissioner to team owners, coaches, and every position of power in between, Black, and brown coaches are grossly underrepresented and left out of the conversation. What results from this? A league plagued with white privilege, bias, microaggressions, and blatant racism.
In the history of the NFL, there have been 500 head coaches, only 24 have been Black. When it boils down to it — the NFL looks no different in 2022 than it did during the height of segregation and the civil rights movement. Fritz Pollard became the first Black head coach in 1921, breaking the race barrier and embodying a beacon of hope for black kids everywhere. One would think, this would be the start of diversity, equality, and inclusion within the league, right? Wrong. Would you like to guess how many years it was before another Black man was hired as a head coach? 68. 68 years, entire generations, and countless men passed by due to the color of their skin.
As a society, we should not only be embarrassed by that, but we should also be ashamed. To add insult to injury, 30% of the league's assistant coaches are Black, perpetuating the notion that Black men are less valuable. And that white men are the only one’s worthy of “leadership” roles.
The hypocrisy is palpable as we continue to see marketing campaign after marketing campaign pushing the sentiment of unity, inclusion, and diversity as the NFL continues to stoke the fires of the white man’s patriarchy. The same league that continues to disregard Black men for positions of power, the same league that ousted Colin Kaepernick for peacefully protesting police brutality against Black people, the same league that continues to ignore issues of race — is honestly pushing the inclusion narrative during Black History Month… really?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was recently called out for these blatant discrepancies within the hiring processes for head coaches in a pre-Super Bowl presser. As reported by ESPN,
"We believe in diversity," Goodell said during the news conference outside SoFi Stadium, site of Super Bowl LVI. "We believe it has made us stronger. People who have come into the league who are diverse have been very successful and made us better, and we just have to do a better job. ... Is there another thing that we can do to make sure that we're attracting the best talent and making our league more inclusive? If I had the answer right now, I would give it to you. I would have implemented it.”
Former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores recently sued the NFL for their hiring patterns fueled by racism and discrimination. Flores was recently fired from the organization, despite exceeding expectations in his first 3 seasons after inheriting a team that was circling the drain. Flores then interviewed for the head coach position for the New York Giants but noted the experience as a "sham process” because the team already had decided to hire Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
"We need change," Flores told ESPN last week. "The hiring practices in the National Football League -- the numbers speak for themselves. ... I've been in this league 18 years, and the National Football League is an example to the world, it really is. People follow the lead of the National Football League. They just do. That's how powerful this league is. There's an opportunity here, there really is. We are at a fork in the road. Things are either going to stay the way they've been, or we're going to move in a direction that not only will help and affect change among the Black and minority coaches in the National Football League but [also elsewhere].”
So, we clearly know there’s an issue, and the NFL is not unlike any other organization or company within the structure of corporate America. We know there needs to be a change, but what does that look like? In my Stevie Award-Winning book, The Color of Courage: Crushing Racism in Corporate America, I take readers on a deep dive into the uncomfortable conversations and self-awareness required to cultivate meaningful and lasting change to make our nation a more equitable place.
The NFL doesn’t only need a pivot, they need a complete mindset makeover, and it starts at the top. The Commissioner, the Owners, and the higher-ups need to look themselves in the mirror, face those uncomfortable truths, and begin to rebuild an equitable and sustainable system — not as a PR stunt, but as a long-term change.
Hey Roger Goodell, if you want to have a chat, I’d be more than happy to offer my consulting services. It’s time for a change, it’s time for a revolution within our nation’s most reputable sports organization.