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Questions linger about N.F.L.'s lack of head coaching diversity

With the National Football League season set to conclude Sunday, the same questions about the lack of minority head coaches are being asked. Just five of the 32 head coaching positions in the league are filled by people of color.

During a press conference Thursday, ahead of Sunday’s game between Kansas City and Tampa Bay, Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged the league, whose players are 70% non-white, needs to do more in terms representation, both in coaching and in upper-management.

University at Buffalo Center for the Advancement of Sport Director Nellie Drew said part of the problem is a lack diversity at the very top.

“The league is composed of 32 individual franchises who make their own hiring decisions,” she said. “So, it’s one thing to sit at the board of governors table and say oh yeah that’s a great idea, let’s endorse these minority-friendly hiring practices. It’s another thing to be in the room, making that choice for a specific club.”

Drew said the problem parallels Title IX, which she says is still fighting an uphill battle despite being law for nearly 50 years.

“These things do not happen easily or comfortably,” she said. “You have to rework things that are endemic in people’s persona’s. In the culture.”

Greater diversity throughout the league, said Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Law Society President Jake Cercone, can be achieved by creating pathways to leadership positions for former players. But he questions the disconnect between on-field ability and ability in a front office.

“There has to be some disconnect of the soft skills to get those positions,” Cercone said. “Is it more of just two different cultural lines where people don’t understand each other? Or is there a lack of skills that African American coaches are assumed not to have, even though that’s been proven wrong this off-season?”

Cercone and Drew agree that further bolstering the Rooney Rule and leadership pipelines like the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship are steps in the right direction, but demand for more progress beyond those programs should not be ignored.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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