The lack of Black coaches within the NFL has long been a conversation – one that has more questions than answers as the frustration among qualified potential candidates intensifies. The presumption that Jay-Z’s newly acquired, but also controversial, role within the NFL as the league’s social justice ambassador would warrant a leg up for Black prospects looking to land head coaching positions wasn’t too farfetched, right? Especially considering that he affirmed he is all about action.
According to NFL.com, the rap mogul and businessman said during a Q&A following the announcement of his partnership with the league, “I’m really into action — I’m into real work. I’m not into how it looks.”
He continued, “I just show up and do the work, I’m not interested in how things look on the outside. If protesting on the field is the most effective way, then protest on the field. But, if you have a vehicle that you can inspire change and you can speak to the masses and educate at the same time.”
And while the hopes are that Jay-Z would impose his power to force much-needed diversity within the NFL seeing how 70 percent of the league’s players are Black and there are only three Black head coaches, he has been completely silent.
Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, is a top contender in the conversation. However, uncertainty looms over whether or not Bieniemy will land a head coaching position. He has been interviewed by seven teams within the last two years, but where he may end up, if anywhere at all, isn’t a sure thing.
The question of what it will take for Bieniemy to get a head coaching gig was asked by SportsCenter host Kevin Negandhi. He was answered by Jemele Hill who stated plainly, “Be the one thing he can’t, which is white.”
Does that statement echo the sentiments of many? Perhaps, because if the Black candidates for these positions are equally, if not more, qualified than white coaches or white potentials looking to land head coaching gigs, why are there only three Black coaches in the league?
An inadequate measure was taken in 2003 to somewhat address this longstanding issue, but not really. The NFL implemented the Rooney Rule, which has been receiving criticism from its’ inception. Why? Because it was a covering for the league who was threatened with a lawsuit from Johnnie Cochran for their hiring practices involving Black head coaches. The lawsuit threat stemmed from the 2002 firings of head coaches Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings – Dungy who had a winning record and Green who had just suffered his first losing season in ten years.
The Rooney Rule, however, only requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions. There is nothing within the policy that forces teams to hire them.
That provision makes the rule ineffective at best, according to Harry Edwards, professor emeritus in the sociology of sports at the University of California at Berkeley.
“The Rooney Rule was stillborn because it was toothless,” Edwards, a former staff consultant with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, told NewsOne recently. “The Rooney Rule said this will give us (owners) cover in case we don’t have a representative number of Black head coaches in a league that’s overwhelmingly Black.”
Washington Redskins assistant coach Ray Horton spoke to the frustration of many other Black men who hold offensive or defensive coaching positions or coordinator roles, according to a report from The Washington Post. Horton acknowledged that these team owners want a W, but also said that the “red line in the sand keeps moving” for Black candidates trying to land a head coaching position.
“First they said, ‘Well, you have to be a coordinator.’ Then you had to be a coordinator who actually calls the plays. Well, now that line moved, and they want an offensive coach. And now all of a sudden it’s a wide receivers coach,” he said.
It seems like the rules shift on a case-by-case basis. And while some have cited the NFL policy that forbids coaches from signing contracts with a new team mid-season, coaches who have endured the tireless interview process aren’t buying that. Instead, like many others, they have pointed to league owners’ racial bias. There are zero Black owners in the league.
Here is where Jay-Z would come in. But, as the tumbleweeds mosey along, so do the hopes that he will use his position within the NFL to champion Black coaches vying for a head coaching position.