REAL CHANGE MEANS HIR­ING NON-WHITES TO TOP NFL POSTS

Teams only stand to ben­e­fit by ex­pand­ing ta­lent pool when seek­ing coaches and GMS

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - SCOTT STINSON sstin­son@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/scot­t_stin­son

The Na­tional Foot­ball League al­tered its hir­ing poli­cies last month in a bid to in­crease the num­ber of non-white coaches and ex­ec­u­tives in its ranks.

The changes to the Rooney Rule, which was first es­tab­lished 17 years ago, hap­pened in the mid­dle of the first ma­jor event this year that tilted the world off its axis. And now with the sec­ond ma­jor global event, the NFL al­ready seems out of step with the mo­ment.

With protests against racism in polic­ing across North Amer­ica and Europe hav­ing be­come a greater call for an end to dis­crim­i­na­tion, and with gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions in­sist­ing that they must do more to ad­dress work­force im­bal­ances, the NFL is still left with six non-white head coaches and gen­eral man­agers among 64 such po­si­tions.

The re­vised Rooney Rule will re­quire teams to in­ter­view more mi­nor­ity can­di­dates for those jobs, as well as for se­nior co-or­di­na­tor po­si­tions. A pro­posal to re­ward teams that hire mi­nor­ity can­di­dates with im­proved thir­dround draft picks was tabled. While there are now loud calls for sweep­ing change, this was a tweak.

What hap­pened in the NFL last month — be­fore the swell of public sup­port for anti-racism ini­tia­tives, be­fore com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell’s sur­pris­ing apol­ogy for the way the league has han­dled player protests against po­lice bru­tal­ity — is in­struc­tive, be­cause it shows that as much as in­sti­tu­tions might ac­knowl­edge their bi­ases and a de­sire to over­come them, ac­tu­ally do­ing so won’t come eas­ily.

While there’s no lack of in­dus­tries with a paucity of non-white em­ploy­ees in se­nior po­si­tions — govern­ment, medicine, law, and cer­tainly the me­dia — there is no place where the dis­par­ity is quite so glar­ing as in the NFL. The labour pool is about 70 per cent black, and al­most two decades after the league ad­mit­ted that it had a prob­lem en­sur­ing that those for­mer play­ers had the same op­por­tu­ni­ties in coach­ing and man­age­ment as white for­mer play­ers (and non-play­ers), it was left ad­mit­ting that the prob­lem has per­sisted. Its teams are so bad at hir­ing non-whites to their top jobs that they con­sid­ered lit­er­ally brib­ing them­selves to do it.

The bizarre thing about all this is that teams in a hyper-com­pet­i­tive league would only stand to im­prove by ex­pand­ing their hir­ing pool, and yet they still don’t do it.

One of the un­der­pin­nings of the sta­tis­ti­cal rev­o­lu­tions across all sports in re­cent years has been the recog­ni­tion that one key to suc­cess is to find some­thing valu­able that other teams are un­der­valu­ing and ex­ploit it. In base­ball it was on-base per­cent­age, in bas­ket­ball it was the three-point shot, in hockey it was puck pos­ses­sion.

The idea of hir­ing statis­ti­cians into man­age­ment roles went from wildly con­tro­ver­sial to rou­tine in the space of a few sea­sons. Now any fran­chise that doesn’t have a ded­i­cated sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis depart­ment — dreaded com­puter nerds — is the out­lier.

Hir­ing more coaches and ex­ec­u­tives from the non-tra­di­tional pool of­fers the same po­ten­tial com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage to an NFL team. It’s not un­like the man­ner in which the league has con­sid­ered the black quar­ter­back. For ages they were a nov­elty, and even though a few had bro­ken through and proven them­selves, teams were still far more likely to draft a big white kid who could stand in the pocket and chuck the ball a mile than they were a black quar­ter­back, even one with a gaudy col­lege re­sume. But now any list of the most pro­duc­tive quar­ter­backs in the NFL has most of the non­white starters bunched at the top: Pa­trick Ma­homes, Rus­sell Wil­son, La­mar Jack­son, De­shaun Wat­son, Dak Prescott. Drew Brees could be slot­ted in there some­where as the white QB torch bearer among the present elite, but that’s about it.

This isn’t to say the league has to­tally ad­justed its way of think­ing about black quar­ter­backs; Jack­son was in­fa­mously passed over by ev­ery team in the 2018 draft be­fore Bal­ti­more took him at the end of the first round. He was the league MVP in 2019. But there have to be per­son­nel de­part­ments look­ing at the suc­cess of the league’s black quar­ter­backs and re­al­iz­ing their eval­u­a­tion pro­cesses are flawed. The Chicago Bears, hav­ing passed on both Ma­homes and Wat­son in 2017 to take Mitch Tru­bisky, might have de­stroyed the myth of the white QB with po­ten­tial all by them­selves.

Like the crop of thriv­ing non-white quar­ter­backs, why wouldn’t there be un­tapped ta­lent in the po­ten­tial coach­ing ranks, once a team looks a lit­tle wider to find the right can­di­date? Real change will come when teams re­al­ize that it will be to their ben­e­fit to over­come their tra­di­tional bi­ases, not be­cause a league rule forces them to con­duct a cou­ple ex­tra in­ter­views.

That is, ob­vi­ously, true for other in­dus­tries that have a deficit of mi­nori­ties in lead­er­ship po­si­tions. But sports teams and leagues have a unique op­por­tu­nity to lead by ex­am­ple, be­cause their top jobs are so vis­i­ble.

Good­ell’s un­ex­pected state­ment on Fri­day, which con­demned “racism and the sys­temic op­pres­sion of black peo­ple” was notable be­cause it was more blunt and con­cil­ia­tory than any­thing the NFL had pre­vi­ously said on the is­sue. We’ll only know how se­ri­ous its teams are about change if, a decade from now, they aren’t ar­gu­ing about chang­ing the Rooney Rule again.

ANDY LYONS/GETTY IM­AGES FILES

Any list of the most pro­duc­tive QBS in the NFL has most of the league’s non-white starters bunched at the top, in­clud­ing Pa­trick Ma­homes of the Super Bowl cham­pion Kansas City Chiefs.

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