On Thursday, former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy penned an open letter to National Football League (NFL) owners on their minority hiring practices. While most of the League is busy preparing for and focusing on the upcoming Super Bowl LV game, which is to take place this Sunday, Dungy is doing his best to urge NFL owners to focus on the bigger picture.
Dungy, the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl title, wrote his letter after watching yet another round of predominantly white head coaches get hired during the offseason. Out of the seven open spots that were available, only one was filled by a Black man. Last month, the New York Jets hired former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to be their new head coach. Out of the cohort of seven, only two of the new hires were minorities – including Saleh. Houston Texans’ head coach David Culley is Lebanese.
The Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, and Jacksonville Jaguars all chose to hire white men to run their teams, despite there being qualified minority candidates available. This marks the third hiring cycle of head coaches that has shown the racial disparities between white and non-white head coaching staff in the League. Over the past three years, only two of twenty head coaches that have been hired have been Black. Currently, four of the 32 NFL teams have minorities in their head coach positions.
This is not to say that the League lacks minorities in leadership positions. Instead, it’s to say that they’ve been pipelined through a different trajectory that makes it harder for them to climb their way up the corporate ladder – especially when it comes to becoming a head coach. Over the past few years, more and more teams have moved towards hiring younger coaches to help move the game along. However, “the recent popularity of young coaches has allowed them to leapfrog seasoned minority coaches, who for years were encouraged to serve as coordinators or to get play-calling experience, only to have the goalposts moved after they did that.”
In his letter, Dungy points out how, “the problem is [that] we are not utilizing all of our resources because we aren’t truly embracing minority hiring in every aspect of our game.” He continues by mentioning, “It is about the mindset of finding quality leadership and utilizing ALL the talent available to the NFL.”
Dungy’s points are 100% valid and extremely hard to argue with. In a sport with nearly 70% of its player base made of Black players, it doesn’t make any logical sense that Black people aren’t being represented in a holistic view of what teams look like. Besides just being on the field, where are the Black people in the c-suites, the medical staffs, as head coaches, and even as owners?
Throughout his letter, Dungy details the painful history that the League has when it comes to integrating Black players, spanning back to the 1930s and 40s. When Black players were allowed into the League, it helped the NFL reach new heights. However, it was still some 50 years until Black players were fully able to flourish and show their talents within the NFL. Most notably, there was the stigma around Black quarterbacks, and they weren’t originally allowed to play in that position professionally for decades. Dungy himself had to switch from being a quarterback to defensive back in the 1970s after he went pro.
Although the NFL has come a long way from barring Black players from playing their positions, there is still work that needs to be done in the overall structure of the organization and its teams, and that change starts and ends with the NFL owners.
“You are the 32 men and women that determine the direction of your franchise and the direction of the entire league,” writes Dungy. “You set the policies and you make the decisions. You are the key players.” Dungy would know best because, for 13 years, he was in the exact same position that the 32 men and women in charge of the NFL teams today are.
It’s time for the NFL to sit down and look at itself in the mirror. Are they going to continue to run and function as an organization that’s just trying to make a simple profit, or will they change and begin to make decisions to help make the NFL the best it can be?
Dungy still has hope for the NFL and believes that the owners will ultimately make decisions to better the League as a whole. Here’s hoping that not all hope will be lost, and the NFL will commit itself to becoming a fair and equal opportunity organization, both on and off the field.