The National Football League achieved an A-minus for racial hiring practices and a C for gender hiring practices in the 2018 NFL Racial and Gender Report Card, released Wednesday by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. This gave the NFL a combined B grade. It is the ninth consecutive year of earning an A-minus or higher for racial hiring practices.
The NFL's score for racial hiring practices was an 89.0 percent, 1.7 percentage points lower than last year's score of 90.7. That was its lowest point total in its nine-year run of earning an A-minus or higher.
The score for gender hiring practices was 74 percent, matching the score in 2017. The overall grade for the NFL decreased from 82.5 percent in 2017 to 80.8 percent in 2018, resulting in a B.
There has been a lot of discussion of positive and negative trends in the NFL regarding race and gender. For the first time, there were five African-American quarterbacks in the playoffs and a female officiating a playoff game.
In 2016, with the help of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL found itself at the epicenter of a social debate surrounding athlete activism, racial inequality and police brutality. Although NFL teams have shunned Kaepernick, the league has attempted to support the issues he represented by announcing a $100 million fund to support organizations addressing social justice issues.
In 2018, Nike made a gutsy decision to place Kaepernick's face and his social message on TVs, cellphones, tablets, computers and billboards that spanned an audience possibly greater than the NFL has ever imagined.
In late December 2018, LeBron James, perhaps today's most respected athlete, said: "In the NFL, they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality." Most of the owners in the NFL and NBA are white. When considering how the NFL is treating Kaepernick, James is perhaps emphasizing the decisions that NFL owners are making. The NFL and NBA are starkly different in their approach to social-justice issues and how much they allow their players to be key stakeholders in the decision-making process.
I continue to be a strong advocate of athlete activism, supporting the efforts of Kaepernick, James and many others to bring more emphasis to important social justice issues that are dividing our nation. As recently stated in a United Nations resolution, we must "recognize that sports, the arts and physical activity have the power to change perceptions, prejudices and behaviors, as well as to inspire people, break down racial and political barriers, combat discrimination and defuse conflict social issues ..."
The NFL might be moving in that direction. In conjunction with its 32 teams and the Players Coalition, a group of players who work for social justice, the NFL announced recently it is starting a social justice platform, with an emphasis on community, police relations, education and economic development.
At the beginning of the 2018 NFL season, the league had eight head coaches of color matching the peak previously reached in 2011 and 2017. Even though this made it seem as if the Rooney Rule was working well, the NFL announced a new procedure that would strengthen the Rule. As of 2018 teams are now required to go outside their own organizations to interview a candidate of color, or to interview a candidate who is on the league's career development advisory panel list.
Unfortunately, by the end of the 2018 NFL season, four of the eight head coaches of color -- Hugh Jackson (Cleveland Browns), Todd Bowles (New York Jets), Vance Joseph (Denver Broncos), and Steve Wilks (Arizona Cardinals) -- were fired. Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals) resigned his position at the end of the season. As of this writing, it is rumored that New England Patriots assistant Brian Flores will become the Miami Dolphins head coach once the Patriots' season ends. The Dolphins had recently hired an African-American as a general manager, as an assistant general manager, and as an offensive coordinator.
Although no coaches of color have so far been chosen to replace them, I remain confident that the NFL franchises will adhere to the intent of the Rooney Rule in the future. I also have no doubt that Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers) and Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers) will continue a tradition of advocating for and developing coaches of color for head coaching positions at the amateur and professional levels. My hope stems from the belief I have that this cycle/trend can be reversed.
After setting the record of eight head coaches of color in 2011, the number plummeted to four in 2013. The number climbed back up to eight in 2017 and 2018. Am I concerned at where we are today? Absolutely. But the value of the Racial and Gender Report is that it provides history and a baseline. With public pressure and an enhanced Rooney Rule, I am betting the NFL will get back to the all-time record and beyond, hopefully after the hiring cycle at the conclusion of the 2019 season. Eight was good but even though it tied its own record, it should be even better with more than eight head coaches of color. We do need to watch closely and keep the pressure on high.
The NFL Race and Gender Report Card helps us look deeper into the NFL's racial and gender hiring practices at the franchise and league levels. The NFL franchise owners are ultimately responsible for the racial and gender hiring practices for each of their respective teams. The bottom line is that the NFL did not make much, if any, progress with race and gender hiring practices in 2018. In fact, the NFL has its lowest overall grade since 2014.
Led by the commissioner, the league office has a much better record than its teams for diverse hiring practices. At the NFL league office, 28.3 percent of the 1,006 employees are people of color. At the team level, only 25.8 percent of the 8,679 full-time employees are people of color.
When we look deeper, we see a sharp gap in the number of people of color in leadership positions. The league has 22 percent of its vice presidents and positions above filled with people of color whereas only 11.7 percent of the team vice president and above positions are people of color.
In 2018, the NFL league office employed a workforce that consisted of 35 percent women. Additionally, the vice presidents and positions above in 2018 consisted of 29 percent women.
All of the NFL franchises combined employ a workforce that was only 28 percent women in 2018, which halted progress since having an all-time high of 30 percent in 2017. At the vice-president-and-higher level, the teams have only 18 percent of the positions filled by women, albeit a slight improvement from 17.3 percent in 2017.
The NFL's record for gender hiring practices remains weak and earned it an overall C grade. It is ironic that in 2018, Scarborough Research found that approximately 45 percent of the NFL fan base consisted of women. Nielsen ratings show that 33 percent of the NFL viewing audience are women. Will women consuming the NFL put pressure to hire more women? That would be a powerful force.
The NFL used the power of sport to set the standard for diversity in the workplace 15 years ago with the Rooney Rule. The NFL's Rooney Rule, arguably the most prominent diversity initiative created by the sports industry in the past 20 years, was named after the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who was the original designer of the policy when he was the NFL's Diversity Committee chairman. It was designed to provide increased consideration for people of color in head coaching positions by requiring teams to interview at least one person of color for a head coaching vacancy. In 2009, the policy was expanded to include senior football operations positions and, in 2018, it was improved to require a team to interview at least one person of color from outside its organization or from a list of recommended candidates managed by the NFL's Career Development Advisory Panel. In 2018, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto implemented the Rooney Rule for the hiring of the city's most senior management personnel. Peduto recognized that "if you widen the net, you get different types of candidates with different backgrounds, you create a better workforce."
I am encouraged to learn that in March, the NFL league office will welcome a new chief diversity and inclusion officer to strategically lead all of the various initiatives related to diversity and inclusion across the NFL. This new position will place increased focus on the NFL's workforce demographics through diversity and inclusion initiatives, to include the success of a Women's Interactive Network, as well as a partnership with leading diversity advocacy organizations such as the Fritz Pollard Alliance and Women in Sports and Events.
In recent years, the NFL has broken barriers by hiring women such as Jen Welter, Kathryn Smith, Kelsey Martinez and Sarah Thomas into high-profile positions, but I challenge the NFL leadership at the league office and at the franchises to continue its efforts to become a sports industry leader by cultivating a strong and enduring pipeline that expands head coaching and senior leadership opportunities for people of color and women. An effective pipeline will not only provide the necessary skills, education and experience to people of color and women, but it should make it possible for them to gain the trust of key leadership through frequent interaction and increased responsibilities and authority.
One final thought: The NFL, NBA, MLB, WNBA, MLS, NHL and other professional sports leagues should combine their resources to design a framework on how to accomplish the United Nations goals to "build sport-based initiatives that encourage social and economic development throughout the world." Think about what this organization could do for race and gender inequality, domestic violence, youth development, education and so much more.
David Zimmerman made significant contributions to this column.
Richard E. Lapchick is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of 17 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card, and is the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook.