ESPN 'The Undefeated' Blog: NFL Teams Hire Head Coaches on 'White Is Right' Mentality

January 14th, 2020 10:00 AM

Only one man of color got a head coaching job in the NFL's recent round of hires, proving to The Undefeated's senior NFL writer that the league has a "white is right" mentality. Furthermore, Jason Reid writes that league owners could not care less about inclusive hiring.

Ron Rivera, a man of Latino heritage, was the only minority hire since the end of the 2019 season, by the Washington Redskins. The other teams who fired their coach at the end of the season all hired white men to serve as their new head coaches.

That prompted Reid to suggest that signs should be posted at team headquarters around the league stating, “'Coaches of color will rarely receive serious consideration for head coaching positions.' Although such notices would merely be stating the obvious, at least minority coaches would officially know where they stand." Reid also writes that the NFL is practically still living in the Jim Crow past:

"Some are trying to maintain hope that owners will someday change their wrongheaded thinking and judge them on the content of their coaching, rather than the color of their skin. Most, however, won’t hold their breath. After only one coach of color filled a vacancy for the third time in as many hiring cycles, the message is clear: For the NFL’s top jobs, white is right."

Rod Graves, the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advises the NFL on diversity and inclusion, is frustrated that respected assistant coaches like Kansas City's Eric Bieniemy (seen in photo above), Miami's Jim Caldwell, Buffalo's Leslie Frazier, Minnesota's George Edwards and others were not interviewed for the recent head coaching openings. "Again."

"But what’s troubling is that there are so many guys who are among the best coaches in the league, and they’re just not involved in this interview process," Graves said. "They’ve been totally excluded from the process. That’s troubling.”

It may be time to sue the NFL, say Reid and Susan D. Carle, professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law. Coaches and executives of color have a case "given how poorly things have trended for a good stretch now," Reid writes. "The data suggests something is occurring that’s not random."

“I couldn’t promise they would win, but they sure would put on a good case that one would expect to shake up the NFL,” says Carle, an expert in discrimination, labor and employment law. “You have a pattern of a lot of cases [of candidates of color not being hired to fill positions], and they all seem to have to do with one feature of the people who don’t get the jobs: They all have to do with race. That’s some strong evidence.”

Carle says the league is acting in "invidious and discriminatory" ways. There's only one black general manager and no black team presidents, though some high-ranking black executives recently left NFL teams for other jobs.

Reid says African American coaching hopefuls have solid legal grounds for litigation, but concludes the risk of recriminations would make them hesitant to sue. An assistant coach told him, "We have families to feed. We can’t afford for our careers to end.” Reid infers that Colin Kaepernick's protest and lawsuit against the NFL cost him his football career and a lawsuit could ruin coaching careers, too.

So there would need to be an outcry from the fan base to get the NFL's attention. Otherwise the overt racial discrimination may never end.

Until that happens, Reid says, the owners who fill their rosters with 75 percent African American players will continue to show "they couldn’t care less about truly inclusive hiring."