Only litigation, or the risk of it, will improve the NFL’s minority hiring record

Richterhammer (Gavel) auf weißem Hintergrund. Symbolfoto für Gerechtigkeit
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Another year, another round of efforts to diagnose and cure the chronic failure of the NFL to push more minority candidates to the top of the coaching pyramid.

Here’s what will happen: Words will be spoken and articles will be written and, in the end, nothing tangible will happen. Collectively, the NFL wants to improve its minority hiring practices when it comes to head coaches. Individually, team owners will continue to do whatever they want.

That’s the Billionaire’s Privilege. It’s a unique aspect of human nature that activates once a sufficient amount of wealth and power is accumulated. Gradually but inevitably, the billionaire gets what he or she wants. Gradually but inevitably, the billionaire becomes surrounded by those who say that which he or she wants to hear.

Captains of industry and accumulators of extreme wealth do not like to be told what to do. Even when it’s what they should do, they want to decide to do it on their own.

That’s ultimately the core challenge for the NFL when it comes to minority hiring practices. How can the league persuade individual owners to do the right thing without making the individual owners feel like they’re being told what to do?

The answer, as I’ve mentioned before but feel compelled to crystallize here and now, is litigation and/or the threat of it.

The NFL didn’t create the Rooney Rule in 2002 as a gesture of altruism. The league adopted the rule as an act of self-preservation. Cyrus Mehri and the late Johnnie Cochran made it clear to the NFL that its hiring practices created a very real risk of litigation — and that litigation barring some sort of change was inevitable.

Nineteen years later, the NFL keeps groping for ways to improve the end result, to make it more in line with the percentage of minority players and, more importantly, minority assistant coaches. The league wants to improve the numbers, but the league can’t make the individual owners do it.

The psychological question now becomes not whether racial bias alone taints these decisions but whether any potential bias has become exacerbated by a reluctance of owners to be perceived as capitulating — to the league office, to the media, to the mob.

It’s quite possible that only another effort to scare the NFL into thinking that a lawsuit is coming will compel true progress. Many who are reading this will cringe at the idea of litigation being the answer. The reality, however, is that the civil justice system historically has provided an important and potent mechanism for forcing true societal change.

Whether it’s the safety of consumer products or the presence of fairness and justice in employment practices or every other way that the rich and the powerful end up on equal footing with the poor and the meek in a truly impartial forum, the civil justice system holds billionaires accountable.

That’s why billionaires loathe the civil justice system. It’s why billionaires usually support political candidates who will stack the courts with business-friendly judges. It’s why billionaires cram into as many written documents as possible fine print forcing the average person to waive the constitutional right to a trial by jury and to submit to an arbitration process that makes it much easier to avoid a massive verdict, even when a massive verdict is justified.

It’s not nearly good enough, as history repeatedly has shown, to appeal to the better angels of those who run big businesses. The problem won’t be regarded as a real problem until it shows up on the balance sheet.

For the NFL, it’s not going to show up on the balance sheet until someone sues. Although the issue generates bad P.R. for the league, no one is boycotting the product over the NFL’s failure to hire more minority head coaches. Only litigation will impact the bottom line.

The NFL likely assumes that litigation won’t happen. That no assistant coach will assume the risk of being shunned from all employment with the 32 teams by taking a stand. Until someone does (or until someone makes the league believe it’s imminent), meaningful change in this context will continue to be hard for the NFL to realize.

Here’s one thing the owners need to remember in this regard. If/when a lawsuit is filed, a scorched-earth effort will commence to scrutinize all communications that may or may not shed light on the existence of an actual bias based on race. This means that the lawyers will pursue emails and text messages and conversations that could potentially become very problematic if/when they end up eventually being introduced in open court.

13 responses to “Only litigation, or the risk of it, will improve the NFL’s minority hiring record

  1. “Nineteen years later, the NFL keeps groping for ways to improve the end result, to make it more in line with the percentage of minority players and, more importantly, minority assistant coaches.”

    And there’s the issue. The supposition that the ability to play the game well enough to make the NFL and the ability to coach go hand in hand.

    Only about a quarter of head coaches were ever on an NFL roster. The only All-Pro HC is Mike Vrabel. Most head coaches washed out in college, and had to turn to coaching to stay around the sport they loved. The pool of potential coaches is MUCH wider than NFL rosters.

  2. Its ironic that the owners are the ones who approve these different rules promoting diversity, etc. But, then they are the same ones who ignore them and hire whoever they feel like.

  3. As a latino male I think just get rid of the Rooney rule gonna force teams to hire someone they 100% not sold on just to meet requirements it be like a pity trip job knowing you didn’t really earn the job you got it off a mandate or requirements at least Tom Flores will probably be in the HOF only minority head coach with 2 SBs first to win a SB as a minority head coach….

  4. The problem is, the only endgame would be a payoff.

    Litigation isn’t going to get these guys jobs. I’d argue the opposite. If these guys actually WON? They’d be Kaepernick’ed for the rest of their careers.

  5. scubasteve says:
    February 5, 2021 at 12:43 pm
    Its ironic that the owners are the ones who approve these different rules promoting diversity, etc. But, then they are the same ones who ignore them and hire whoever they feel like.

    ———

    As it should be.

  6. I understand the concern but I believe that we have to consider the question of JOB ENTITLEMENT.
    Our Society has room for change and progress in many ways as does the NFL.

    Bob Grant
    Retired NFL Player

  7. Discrimination based on race is against the law. If that’s what is happening and you can prove it then take it to court. If you can’t prove it then it’s speculation at best.

  8. How likely would a win in court be when essentially you’d need a team to admit they thought a guy would be a big-time winner but just didn’t like his race… even though they’re okay with the majority of the players being that same race?

  9. How would litigation change anything? That is part of the story that never gets printed.

  10. The NFL is actively promoting women as coaches, none of whom have played football at the highest levels. In doing so the league has made clear there is no connection between playing at the highest levels and coaching. As such, the percentage of black coaches vs percentage of black players is not relevant. Black percentage of the population at large is reflected by the percentage of NFL head coaches who are black. The NFL has nothing to fear from a lawsuit claiming there aren’t “enough” black head coaches.

  11. Well there are 32 teams in the NFL and 13% of the nation is African American. With 3 African American coaches in the NFL only one more African American coach would be needed to reflect the diversity in this country. I’m not sure the problem is what it’s being made out to be. 13% of 32 is 4.16.

  12. Most teams would hire a person of any color to take them to Super Bowls and the playoffs and the revenue that comes with it.

    The team who seemingly cares the least employed Marvin Lewis for nearly 2 decades.

    This is an odd push.

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