ESPN Monday Night Football Studio analyst Louis Riddick during the regular NFL soccer game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on Monday October 7, 2019 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
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In 2020, the National Football League certainly spoke about its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent have discussed the league’s progress on the matter in almost every media call over the past few months.
“The commissioner has made it a focal point in league meetings for a good period of time, especially last year,” said former NFL general manager Rod Graves. “I think awareness of the diversity in the league or lack of diversity is higher than it has been for a while.”
That year, the league expanded its Rooney rule and asked clubs to interview two minority candidates for coaching positions. The league also added compensation for teams making different hires and developed a universal hiring strategy for all 32 clubs on both the football and business side.
Now that Black Monday is days away – a time when NFL clubs are making trainer and front office changes – these diversity efforts are back in the spotlight. This hiring cycle will prove whether both sides are serious.
“The decisions have always been made by the owners,” said Graves. “With all the work that the league has done, the decision makers are still at the center and whether they feel the need to do this for themselves.”
The certificate for 2020
Graves, who helped create the new guidelines and now serves as executive director at the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization that oversees equality in the league, said the upcoming hiring cycle must be profitable.
On the University of Central Florida Race and Gender Report Card for 2020, the NFL received an overall grade of B-Minus and a B-Plus for setting races. The institution began collecting the data in 1992.
For the second year in a row, the league has four minority head coaches from 32 teams, its lowest level since 2013. That is well below the seven minority head coaches the NFL had in 2018.
At the front of the assistant coach, black coaches make up 239 positions compared to 499 white coaches. With 512 white employees, the league office is no better than 93 black and 49 Spanish.
In a profile on Eric Bieniemy, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, a hot name in the final hiring cycle, USA Today wrote that up to eight positions could be available in the upcoming off-season. Two clubs – Houston and Atlanta – have already made and started moves in the season.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, 15, speaks to Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy during the Super Bowl LIV game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock on February 2, 2020 Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL.
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A new policy from 2020 calls for teams to notify the league office when interviewing minority candidates, and the NFL is monitoring clubs’ records of those interviews. Vincent said the data collected will help improve the NFL’s “mobility” problem, where teams rarely promote minority candidates to head coaching positions.
“Many policy reforms have been implemented during the year to change culture, build trust and create equal opportunities,” Vincent said in an email to CNBC on Wednesday. The NFL would be tracking progress more closely than in previous years. “We are also aware that changes of this magnitude don’t happen overnight and that there is more work ahead of us to achieve our long-term goals.”
One person familiar with early interviews told CNBC teams that they have met reporting requirements without any problem so far. The person who has been asked not to be identified as the person is not allowed to speak on league matters.
Another new incentive to help owners hiring out of the norm is what is known in the league as Measure JC2. It calls on the clubs to receive a compensation decision for the third round if another club transfers employees from its minorities.
But Graves warned that it still might not be enough.
“We cannot be satisfied with improving the process. We have to get results,” he said.
“We found out you can’t legislate,” former NFL coach Tony Dungy told CNBC in May about the expanded Rooney Rule. “I think we have to show the owners that it is good for them, it will be good for business.”
Houston Texans Matt Schaub (L) speaks to the media as Texans GM Rick Smith watches during the press conference to introduce him as the Texans’ new starting quarterback after trading with the Atlanta Falcons in Houston, Texas on March 22, 2007.
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Who is out there
Among the names looking for possible attitudes on the football side, Bieniemy is among the best. Other names gaining momentum include defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who helped the Buffalo Bills win the AFC East Division title for the first time in 25 years.
In the front office, the name of ESPN soccer analyst Louis Riddick is mentioned. Former Texas executive Rick Smith is also under review. New Orleans assistant GM Terry Fontenot and Bills Malik Boyd are among the newer names in league circles.
“At whatever level a club is considering, there are candidates – men and women of color, not just on the football side but on the business side as well,” said Graves.
On the business side, the hiring of Jason Wright by the Washington Football Team, the first president of the NFL’s black team, hit the headlines this summer, but that’s where the league needs to be stronger.
Names in the pipeline include Adolpho Birch, the Tennessee Titans as Senior Vice President of Business Affairs and Chief Legal Officer. Ed Goines, Executive and General Counsel of the Seattle Seahawks, is also described as the future NFL club president.
“I think decision makers will be better informed about different candidates than they have been in the past,” said Graves.
The guidelines are in place. Goodell and Vincent helped set the tone. Now NFL owners are returning to the spotlight to prove if they’ll take the NFL’s diversity issue seriously.
“If the league gets out of this recruitment cycle and ignores the effects of various attitudes, it would be a tragic position for me,” said Graves. “I don’t know if something could have happened in this off-season – for social and attention-grabbing reasons – that could have increased the focus and urgency in this area more than in the 2020 off-season.”