Jemele Hill: ‘NFL Owners Have a Problem with Coaches of Color’

Jemele Hill
Getty Images/Emma McIntyre

Former ESPN personality Jemele Hill attacked the NFL for its lack of black coaches, and blasted the Rooney Rule as an insufficient solution to the problem.

Hill took out after the league in her January 11 article for the Atlantic where she pointed out that the NFL has had a large number head coach jobs open over the last few years and very few went to a black applicant.

“Currently, only three of the NFL’s 32 teams have black head coaches. In the past three years, 19 head-coaching positions were available, but just two black coaches filled those openings,” Hill wrote.

“This hiring cycle has been particularly cruel to black coaches. Five head-coaching jobs were available, and so far, not one has gone to a black candidate,” Hill added.

“Year after year, the hiring pattern shows the ineffectiveness of the league’s Rooney Rule, the policy the NFL instituted in 2003 to address the racial inequities at the head-coaching level,” she said.

The Rooney Rule is a league policy named after late Pittsburgh Steelers Owner Dan Rooney, who helped draft the NFL rule that requires any team looking for a new head coach or team executive to interview at least one minority candidate for consideration.

But Hill feels this rule is practically meaningless. “While well intentioned,” she wrote, “this policy can’t possibly fix the deep-seated culture of exclusion that plagues the league.”

Hill goes on to slam the league for the assumption that black aren’t smart enough to be a head coach.

More than half the players in the NFL are black, and most coaches have played the game at some level. That would seem to be the perfect recipe for black coaches to find success. But most NFL owners have been white men, and they have seldom been willing to let African Americans or Latinos call plays—either on the field or from the sidelines. This is no different from when franchises presumed that black players weren’t smart enough to play quarterback and lacked leadership skills to command men. The league’s paltry record of hiring minority head coaches comes from the same mind-set. And its primary effort to address the problem has been a failure, because a policy can’t compensate for ignorance.

Hill also cited a study by the Global Sport and Education Lab at Arizona State University that showed that 40 percent of the head coaches hired by the NFL came from the ranks of the league’s offensive coordinators, and 91 percent of those hired to be offensive coordinators were white men.

“Even when black coaches follow what appears to be an established blueprint to a head-coaching position, they aren’t guaranteed to be held in the same regard as their white counterparts,” Hill insists.

After laying out a comparison of the experience of several worthy black applicants compared to recent white hires, Hill concluded, “Unfortunately, NFL owners treat white men as their default example of leadership.”

Hill added:

The NFL will never solve this problem if the owners continue to operate as if the lack of minority coaches is somehow the fault of the coaches—and not the system that the league and its owners have purposely constructed. Each franchise makes its own decisions, but the outcome is to exclude minority coaches from head-coaching positions outright—and to hold the few black head coaches to a tougher standard.

Hill also notes that black coaches have not fared well.

“As bad as the most recent hiring cycle has been for minority head coaches,” she wrote, “it may not have been worse than the end of the 2018 season. That’s when five of the eight minority head coaches in the league were all fired. All five of those fired were black.”

Hill concluded, saying, “If the NFL wants to create an equitable system for minority head coaches, the owners can’t rely on a rule to create institutional change. NFL owners must recognize that their lazy stereotypes of black male leadership have created this embarrassing problem. In time, we’ll see whether they have the courage to fix it.”

As if to underline Hill’s analysis, on Sunday the Cleveland Browns hired another team’s offensive coordinator to fill the last open head coach position for the coming 2020 season. That man, Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski, is not black.

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