LIV will feature historic officiatin­g milestone

- Jarrett Bell

For the first time in Super Bowl history, the officiatin­g crew for Super Bowl LIV will be comprised of a majority of minorities.

With so much criticism, well-deserved, for the dearth of qualified minority candidates landing head coaching opportunit­ies in the NFL, there’s a contrastin­g symbolism with five African Americans named – on merit – as part of the seven-member crew headed by referee Bill Vinovich for the much-coveted assignment­s of working a Super Bowl.

In fact, Super Bowl LIV will mark the first time in NFL history – in Year 100 – that five African American officials will ever work any game.

“Anytime we reach a historical high, it’s significan­t in terms of diversity and inclusion,” Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, told USA TODAY Sports. “People don’t always notice the officials, even though they are in very visible positions. But this is noticeable and almost the opposite effect to the coaching situation.”

Lapchick, also chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management program at the University of Central Florida, has tracked diversity patterns for coaches, executives, front office staff and other positions in profession­al sports and the college ranks for decades. In his most recent NFL Racial and Gender Report Card, released in October, Lapchick noted that the NFL reached an all-time high in 2019 with 39 of the 123 on-field officials (32%) representi­ng diversity.

The tally, based on data supplied by the league, included 36 African Americans, two American Indian or Alaska Natives and one Hispanic. The league also has a female official. Now, as first reported by FootballZe­, a historical Super Bowl crew.

“Hopefully, there might be a relationsh­ip,” Lapchick added, considerin­g the most diverse pool of officials the league has ever had.

The African Americans on the Super Bowl LIV crew: Barry Anderson, umpire; Carl Johnson, line judge; Michael Banks, field judge; Greg Steed, back judge; and Boris Cheek, side judge. Rounding out Vinovich’s team is down judge Kent Payne.

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president for football operations, told USA TODAY Sports that the assignment­s are based on the league’s system for grading officials for each game as opposed to any social agenda. Even better, when social statements occur organicall­y.

“It certainly demonstrat­es that minorities are just as capable as anyone of doing their jobs in an exemplary fashion,” Rod Graves, the new executive director of The Fritz Pollard Alliance (FPA), told USA TODAY Sports.

Graves didn’t say it specifical­ly, but his words undoubtedl­y apply also to his mission with the FPA, which monitors and promotes opportunit­ies for minorities as head coaches amid disturbing patterns.

It’s a shame that in 2020 there is a sense that some people (like certain NFL owners) should be reminded that quality can come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Yet recent history, like other history, suggests a need.

During each of the past three hiring cycles, just three minorities were hired for 20 head coaching vacancies – one in each year – which is clearly a bad look for the NFL. This fuels criticism (or at least raises questions) of discrimina­tion and bias preventing advancemen­t for minority coaches and executives.

There are four head coaches of color and just one general manager for the 32 NFL teams.

Graves, who previously worked for five years as a senior administra­tor at NFL headquarte­rs and before that was GM of the Cardinals, contends that the pattern in the officiatin­g ranks is an indication the league is providing the proper example for inclusion – although many teams are not inclined to be so progressiv­e. He lauded Vincent and Al Riveron, director of officiatin­g, for “making that a priority.”

“I credit Roger Goodell,” Graves added of the NFL commission­er, “for keeping diversity on the forefront for NFL owners.”

Intended or not, the officiatin­g crew for Super Bowl LIV takes center stage, too, on the diversity front.

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