Equality in the NFL

In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first Black person to play in Major League Baseball (MLB). In 1949, George Taliaferro became the first Black player drafted by a team in the National Football League (NFL). In 1958, Willie O’Ree became the first Black man to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). Today, there are many Black men and women in sports; however, very few are head coaches. 

The NFL recorded in Jan. 2022 that they only had three Black head coaches, which has been a concern for other coaches of color like Eric Bieniemy because of his long historical search for a lead coaching position in the league. Different policies have been put in place to adjust the inequality, but very little has changed. 

I did not ask to be the poster boy of this particular situation that I have experienced. At the end of the day, the only thing that you want to do is be recognized with all the things that you’ve accomplished, and for whatever reason that has not happened,” Bieniemy, said. 

In 2003, the league enacted a measure, called the Rooney Rule, to ensure that any team seeking a head coach would interview at least one minority candidate. In May 2020, the rule was modified to include two minority candidates, nevertheless, coaches of color still do not receive the same opportunities as their white counterparts due to supposed biases by the interviewers. 

“The Rooney Rule has been proven to be something the owners used to deceptively appear to be seeking real diversity. We must have firm targets and timetables,” Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network (NAN), said.  

Though the NFL had three Black coaches at the beginning of 2021, Brian Flores and David Culley, two of the three coaches, were fired Feb. 2022, for their teams’ losses. During the season, nine coaching positions were open, but seven of these positions were given to white candidates, making the two dismissed coaches upset. Flores called the rule a “sham,” insisting that teams only interviewed candidates of color to satisfy the league’s requirements. He filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three other teams, proclaiming several instances of racial discrimination. In response, the NFL denied his allegations, asserting that his claims “were without merit.” 

“The Rooney Rule is intended to give minorities an opportunity to sit down in front of ownership, but I think what it’s turned into is an instance where guys are just checking the box,” Flores said. 

 Joe Biden, United States President, criticized the NFL for its lack of Black coaches during a Superbowl interview on Feb. 13, 2022. Biden claimed that the league has not lived up to being open about hiring more minorities, despite its growing diversity of players.  

“The whole idea that a league that is made up of so many athletes of color, as well as so diverse, that there is not enough African American qualified coaches ‘to manage these NFL teams,’ it just seems to me that it is a standard that they would want to live up to. It is not a requirement of law, but it is a requirement, I think, of just some generic decency,” Biden, said. 

The question about representation of people of color in the NFL remains on the mind of many as they hope to see change in the future.