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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, league officials point to progress in hiring, work to be done

Despite improvements since 2020, ‘it certainly doesn’t mean that we’ve arrived’

IRVING, Texas – During a league meeting at which the NFL reaffirmed its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring, commissioner Roger Goodell and other top league officials pointed to progress across the board at the club level.

They focused on gains made in hiring minority professionals during a news conference Wednesday at The Las Colinas Resort, emphasizing the league’s ongoing efforts in that area. And while Goodell and his underlings didn’t take a victory lap and declare “mission accomplished,” the high-ranking decision-makers appeared pleased that the league has positive numbers to tout.

“I don’t think we’ve ever done enough,” Goodell said. “We’ve said this before, ‘The efforts to make our league more diverse only make our league better.’ We saw that over the last couple days [here]. The incredible talent, incredible people, [who] are gonna make our league better today and will continue to grow and continue to move into positions [in the future].”

Since 2020, the NFL, according to its data, has seen improvement in hiring minority professionals in several roles at the team level, including:

— A 9% jump in executive positions;

— An 8% increase in coaching jobs;

— A 6% bump in business operations posts;

— And a 4% boost throughout football operations.

For the first time in NFL history, minority professionals and women account for 51% of club personnel. The numbers don’t lie, said Jonathan Beane, NFL senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer.

“It shows that some of the things that you are implementing is bearing fruit, but it certainly doesn’t mean that we’ve arrived. We’re far from that,” Beane said. “We always have to hit upon the need to continue to have the foot on the pedal to continue to make the progress. Just as easily as you make progress, you can revert.”

Raiders president Sandra Douglass Morgan (right) speaks on stage with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (left) during an event to promote Super Bowl 58 at the Caesars Forum on Dec. 5 in Las Vegas.

Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal via Getty Images

Critics of the pace of the NFL’s progress would argue that the increases are only incremental. League officials, on the other hand, would argue they’re substantial and reflect the NFL’s ongoing efforts to do better.

In any event, this much isn’t open to debate: There has been improvement.

It wasn’t until Aug. 17, 2020 – exactly one month before the NFL’s centennial – that the league hired its first Black team president: Jason Wright of the Washington Commanders. Today, the NFL has five Black team presidents, including its first Black female team president.

The league has nine Black general managers (one occupies an interim role). Previously, the NFL never had more than seven African Americans in that position at one time.

“We’re obviously pleased with the progression we’ve seen over the last four years with general managers and diverse general managers,” Beane said. “But I don’t feel like … we have to be really careful about being complacent. And when I say, we, I mean all of us, everyone that works at the league. Progress does not mean success.”

At the end of the 2018-19 season, Chris Grier, general manager of the Miami Dolphins, was the NFL’s only Black employee to occupy, traditionally, the most important executive role in football operations. Until 2022, Wright of the the Commanders stood alone among team presidents. Over the past few hiring cycles, the NFL has made progress in filling top roles in club leadership with highly qualified Black candidates.

Goodell and members of his staff continued to point to leaguewide programs such as the accelerator program and the coaching fellowship – the first hiring mandate in the league’s history – that have helped owners identify highly qualified candidates of color. Additionally, Goodell has set a good example in the league office.

In the league’s New York City headquarters, nine of the 17 highest-ranking officials in NFL football operations are Black. Eight of the nine have vice president-level titles or higher, and the group is led by a Black man: NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent, who’s also Goodell’s bannerman in the ongoing struggle to make the league more inclusive from the front office to the field.

Despite all the positive news from the NFL’s standpoint, the head coach position remains a trouble spot. The NFL has only three Black head coaches among 32 overall: Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and DeMeco Ryans of the Houston Texans. Ryans, who’s directing an impressive turnaround in Houston, is among the leading candidates for Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year.

The league’s most recent hiring numbers show that there are 14 defensive coordinators of color and five offensive coordinators of color. During an era in which NFL franchise owners prefer to fill head coach openings with coaches who have experience on the offensive side of the ball – and with the development of young quarterbacks being paramount in the league – the low number of minority offensive coordinators is an ongoing problem.

“Head coaches … they obviously are here today, the head coaches, but we see that talent across the league,” Goodell said. “That’s fundamental to who we are. Diversity is fundamental to we are. We all see the benefits of that and the importance of doing that.”

Black or African American players account for 57.5% of NFL rosters. That number has been as high 70%. The NFL is an overwhelmingly Black league. And many of its Black employees who aspire to become head coaches remain on the outside looking in.

“We believe that there’s amazing talent that’s out there,” Beane said of the league’s many Black assistant coaches. “There are so many incredible coaches. The pipeline is there. And we also feel that we put together some of the policies, in terms of slowing down the process a bit, and allowing the candidates to have more time to prepare when they have an interview. We’re seeing improvement in the other areas [of hiring], coordinator positions and positional roles, that we will get there [with head coaches]. But as we know, that’s the key area that we still need to make a lot of progress in.”

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.