SBJ/October 3-9, 2011/Opinion

Rooney Rule, Goodell factor into improved NFL diversity

Lapchick
If I was asked to rank the various professional sports leagues for racial and gender hiring practices 10 years ago, the NFL would have ranked last. In the 2001 Racial and Gender Report Card, the NFL earned a B for race and a D for gender for a combined low C. That put the NFL behind all the other pro leagues, colleges, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the national governing bodies.

What a difference the Rooney Rule, a new commissioner and a decade have made in the NFL.

In the 2011 NFL report card released at the beginning of the season, the NFL achieved its second consecutive A grade on racial hiring practices and its second consecutive C on gender hiring practices, for a combined B grade. Most of the improvement has been achieved since Roger Goodell became commissioner. And for the best news for the future: The biggest improvement came in the year-plus since Robert Gulliver was named executive vice president for human resources and chief diversity officer.

In spite of having to focus on labor issues, Goodell and Gulliver continued to emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion in the league office. I have been involved with diversity and inclusion issues for more than 40 years. Usually when the economy is weak or there are other big issues to deal with, most organizations allow diversity to be downplayed or disregarded. When there was change under those circumstances, it often took place in entry-level positions. Not the NFL in 2010-11.

Inside the league office, Gulliver used hirings and promotions to increase the percentage of women and people of color at the vice president level and above. The number of female employees at or above the vice president level increased by 36 percent, from 11 in 2010 to 15 in 2011. The number of people of color at or above the vice president level increased by 44 percent, from nine in 2010 to 13 in 2011. The total number of diverse employees at or above the vice president level increased by 30 percent, from 20 in 2010 to 26 in 2011. These are all remarkable one-year jumps.

The league continued to offer a substantial package of programs that have focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives, including new accountability measures and training. The NFL established the Women’s Interactive Network, which is its first women’s network open to all employees. Its purpose is to provide a forum for networking, best-practice sharing and active dialogue on strategies to drive career growth and development. Started in the spring, WIN has more than 130 members.

The dramatic increase for women augurs well and is considered to be an important sign that there will be more women hired into professional positions at the league level in the immediate future. The league office set a standard for the teams, which were far behind regarding both women and people of color.

In 2001, the NFL had a pro-sport low of two people of color as head coaches. Pressure helped lead to the adoption of the Rooney Rule, which mandates a diverse pool of candidates for head coaching positions. Ten years later, there were eight people of color as head coaches at the start of the 2011 NFL season, an all-time record for the NFL.

The NFL started the 2011 season with five African-American general managers for the fifth consecutive season. In 2001, there was one.

“Our core commitment to diversity and our strategic diversity initiatives are firm and under way,” Gulliver said. “As an organization, we are proud of the momentum we have in these areas and can promise that it will continue. With the continued support of the clubs, Commissioner Goodell and all of our staff, we are excited about the opportunities ahead.”

Aside from the league office pushing the needle by example, nothing helps more than what has happened in the coaching and general manager ranks. When Pittsburgh won the 2009 Super Bowl, Mike Tomlin became the second African-American head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl championship in three years. Tony Dungy coached the Indianapolis Colts to a victory in the 2007 Super Bowl. Furthermore, seven out of the last 10 Super Bowl teams have had either an African-American head coach or general manager.

A lot of very good things are happening regarding diversity at the NFL, yet there is significant room for improvement at the team level, where no person of color has ever held majority ownership of an NFL team or has been a team president. The Raiders’ Amy Trask remains the only female president of a team in the NFL.

People of color held 16 percent of senior administrator positions on NFL teams in 2010, compared with 17 percent in 2009. The percentage of the total senior administrator positions on NFL teams held by women increased to 21 percent in 2010 from 17 percent in 2009.

Teams always are behind the league office, but I believe the example of the league and the success of people of color as coaches and general managers will push them forward faster in the years immediately ahead.

Richard E. Lapchick (rlapchick@bus.ucf.edu) is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick authored the 2011 NFL Racial Gender and Report Card along with Wayne Clark, Demetrius Frazier, and Christopher D. Sarpy.
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