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NFL strikes out on minority coach hiring this season

Kenneth L. Shropshire | 1/31/2013, 9:30 a.m.

What do NFL front offices and the White House have in common? Sadly for both, this has been a season of hiring where diversity has declined. The NFL is 0 for 8 and the White House is 0 for 4 in the early stages of appointments in this term.

Eight head coaching openings in the NFL equal 25 percent of the top jobs in the league, and none were filled by an African American or Latino. With the firing of Romeo Crennel at Kansas City and Lovie Smith at Chicago, the NFL coaches of color went down from six to four, leaving Latino Ron Rivera at Carolina, Mike Tomlin at Pittsburgh, Marvin Lewis of Cincinnati and Leslie Frazier at Minnesota.

To be clear, the NFL hiring season is over, but there are still more cabinet appointments to come from the White House. The Obama administration also points out that 43 percent of its appointees have been women, including two on the U.S. Supreme Court. So for now, this is where the similarity between hiring in the NFL and the White House ends.

In defense of the NFL one could argue that this is just a single hiring period; new jobs open up all of the time. One explanation beyond the possibility of a freak hiring season is that with success comes complacency and a lull into a state of comfort. This could come about as all parties concerned — team, league officials and advocates of diversity issues — lost their edge and vigilance on promoting diversity. The remedy here would be to redouble those efforts going forward into the next hiring cycle.

A second possible explanation is that in an era of societal proclaimed color blindness we are simply seeing a down year for the hiring of people of color in the NFL. Time is the remedy for that problem. The third, and the one we all hope we are beyond, is that there was bias in these hiring decisions.

Bias can take on many forms, both conscious and unconscious. We have yet to solve this problem, particularly where there is no clear-cut evidence that bias was present. Whatever the case, our great societal challenge is not to backslide in those sectors where we have made progress in diversity and inclusion. The NFL and the president’s cabinet are two of those spaces.

Our systems to promote diversity are still not perfect. Some might argue that in football, the Rooney Rule has run its course. Ten years ago the NFL adopted the Rooney Rule, which made it a requirement that teams with head coach openings interview at least one candidate of color. At the time, there were just two black head coaches in the league. Now we have three.

The NFL may need more of Commissioner Bud Selig’s Major League Baseball style of motivating minority hiring. By all accounts he intervenes in the hiring process in whatever unique way makes sense for that particular job. The fact that Selig is a former owner and has that unique brand of relationship with the owners in MLB cannot be overstated.