Grading the NFL in Diversity Hiring Practices

While African-Americans consistently make up more than half of all NFL players, they are a distinct minority in head-coaching and front-office office positions. However, the NFL is improving their hiring practices in regards to diversity.  In fact, the NFL earned a grade of A from the The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) for their hiring practices in 2010 and 2011.  Yet in the same category, over the same two-year period, the NFL only received a C for gender-related hiring practices.Joseph M. Hanna is a partner with Goldberg Segalla LLC and co-authored an article for The Business Suit, regarding the NFL’s performance on the TIDES report card.  He explains the significance of the grade, what lead to the NFL’s improvement, and what the next step is for promoting diversity in hiring across sports.

Talk about how and why the The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport
Institute evaluates each league for diversity?

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (“TIDES”) uses data from professional sports leagues in order to produce a statistical analysis of the leagues’ racial and gender hiring practices. The mechanics of “how” TIDES conducts its analysis is best answered by the officials at TIDES who design and perform the analysis. The fact that TIDES evaluates professional sports leagues, and then makes those results public, helps to encourage diversity in the sports world. By spotlighting the leagues’ practices and demographics, the Race and Gender Report Cards force league executives to address the issue of

Joseph M. Hanna

To what degree are hiring disparities a result of career preferences for various genders and races?

In my opinion this is more a result of perception rather than preference. Women and minorities may have preferred to have careers in professional sports in the past but felt that those opportunities were not open to them and therefore chose different career paths. The importance of positive change in the leagues’ racial and gender hiring practices is that it shows women and minorities that they do have the opportunity to have a career in professional sports.

The article credits some of the NFL’s progress to the Rooney rule. What is that and is it responsible for the NFL’s improvement in this regard?

The Rooney Rule was adopted by the NFL in 2003. It mandates that at least one minority
candidate must be interviewed by teams hiring for a head coach position. The rule is named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Dan Rooney, who was the chairman of the NFL’s Diversity Committee and who consistently demonstrated a commitment to diversity in hiring in the Steelers organization. In 2009 the NFL expanded the scope of the Rooney Rule to include all senior football operations positions in addition to head coaching positions.

TIDES’ research clearly shows an increase in the hiring of minorities by the NFL for heading coaching and senior football operations positions since the implementation of the Rooney Rule. The rule has been important in allowing minorities an opportunity to interview and prevent their credentials to decision-makers at different teams that they may not usually come into contact with.

What efforts are being made to higher women at a higher rate in the NFL and other leagues?

While the NFL only earned a C for its gender hiring practices, its gender Diversity Initiatives were graded an A+ by TIDES. Among other initiatives, the NFL launched the Women’s Interactive Network whose goal is to help accelerate the career advancement of women at the NFL. It follows that if the NFL continues to promote strong gender diversity initiatives, more women will advance in the League and its grades for gender hiring practices will improve in the future.

The article cites the fact many of the recent NFL coaches have been black. Doesn’t this almost indicate that only very best black coaches are being hired and retained, while more general discrimination still exists?

At the elite level of the NFL with a limited number of coaching positions, only the very best coaches (of any ethnic background) are being hired and retained. The NFL tends to hire from within so as the number of minority coaches at the assistant level expands, it makes sense that we have begun to see an increase in minorities in higher profile positions (such as Head Coach and Coordinator positions).

What do you think is the future for promoting diversity in hiring across professional sports leagues?

As shown by TIDES’ report cards for the various professional leagues, I think that the Leagues have demonstrated a commitment to diversity within their ranks and are working towards achieving that goal. In my opinion, more diversity is desperately needed at the collegiate amateur level. Before they make it to the big leagues, most coaches get their experience at collegiate programs. If there is an improvement in diversity in hiring at the collegiate level, especially among the more well known programs, down the road that will lead to increased diversity in the professional leagues.

Why does the Institute not evaluate the PGA and NHL. I understand these are
overwhelmingly caucasian-dominated sports, but isn’t that a rather narrow view of diversity?

This question is better addressed to TIDES. I can only guess that one possible reason is that neither the PGA nor NHL chose to participate in the study therefore denying TIDES the data it requires to perform its analysis. Additionally, because of its organizational structure and the fact that professional golf is not a team sport, I am not sure if TIDES would be able to apply the same criteria to the PGA as it does to the other leagues.

Race is only one aspect to be considered in measuring diversity. Diversity takes into account a number of factors in addition to race, including gender and citizenship/country of origin. While the PGA and NHL appear to be less diverse if race is the only criteria considered, both professional golf and hockey feature large numbers of international players that increase diversity in a different way.

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