Imagine working 80-hour weeks for years on end with the sole goal of becoming an NFL coach.
You have a bed in the film room. Family time is a luxury. But you’ve convinced yourself it’s worth the toil for this singular dream.
Now imagine that, after all those years of sacrifice, an NFL team finally gives you a coaching gig — but everybody, including yourself, wonders if it was because the color of your skin. Would it still be cause for celebration?
On Tuesday, NFL owners will vote on a proposal that would place a perpetual asterisk next to hires of coaches and executives who are people of color. Should the plan receive 24 of 32 votes, teams would move 10 spots up in the third round of the draft for hiring a general manager of color, six picks for hiring a head coach of color, and get a fourth-round compensatory pick for hiring a quarterbacks coach of color.
Well-intentioned? Probably. But it seems far more patronizing than it does empowering.
First off, I’m not sure this is something most people of color would get behind. Two Pew Research polls from last year — one pertaining to college admissions and the other to job hiring — showed that the majority of Black, Latino and Asian-Americans oppose taking race into account when evaluating candidates. I doubt that would change when it comes to football coaches.
Second, this plan doesn’t do much to foster diversity so much as it would be forcing it.
“I think sometimes you can do the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, who is Black, told CBS radio. “I think this is out of desperation, this is something that we’re throwing out there, but it is what it is.
“You can’t make people hire someone they don’t want to hire for whatever reason.”
As it stands, there are four head coaches of color in the NFL and two general managers. Three years ago, there were eight head coaches of color. Granted, most of the coaches who were fired in that time had either missed the playoffs in consecutive years or oversaw a stinker of a season. But in a league where about 70 percent of the players are Black, the ratio of white to people of color on the coaching and executive fronts is glaring.
How did it get this way?
Well, first it should be noted that playing in the NFL is hardly a prerequisite for coaching in it. In fact, only eight of the 32 coaches in the league actually played in a regular-season game.
The most common way to the top seems to be getting a job as a graduate assistant out of college, then working your way up from there. This means the NFL coaching pool likely would be closer to reflecting the general American population than it would the NFL player population.
Even so, the current head-coaching hiring craze seems to be picking assistants from the offensive side of the ball — and last year, there were just two offensive coordinators of color compared with 10 defensive coordinators of color.
This was the motivation behind the NFL’s creation of the Quarterback Summit, an annual event for people of color who aspire to be a head coach. NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said the event “was birthed out of looking at the last few hiring cycles and the appetite for offensive coaches.”
The summit is an example of a productive push for diversity. It’s what, according to a New York Times story, allowed dozens of young men of color to pick the brains of former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and other coaches and executives.
They would discuss how to develop quarterbacks (perhaps the most essential path to getting a top job one day), networking, and even tape mock interviews. It seemed like a natural, practical move toward progress.
The NFL also has instituted the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one candidate of color during their head-coaching searches. Probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to extend this to coordinators, too. Additionally, the league has seen more than 2,000 people of color who aspire to be coaches get internships through the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship.
Could the NFL do more? Probably. But new proposals should focus on the recruiting and development of coaches of color — not using them as chips for draft picks or other perks.
It’s one thing to be mindful of diversity and introduce initiatives such as the Quarterback Summit and Rooney Rule. It’s another to try to manufacture diversity and impose counterproductive “solutions.”
If this proposal passes, it will unfairly stigmatize people of color who may very well have earned the job anyway. And as polls indicate, this isn’t the kind of thing most people of color seem to want.
Whoever came up with it probably thought it was ingenious, but from where I’m sitting, it’s just insulting.