I am finished with the NFL until they start hiring more Black coaches—and keeping them around
It’s discrimination, plain and simple.
A lot has changed over the past year—but there’s one thing that sure as hell hasn’t. And as frustrated as I was about it twelve months ago, I’m downright mad now.
I’m talking about football’s head coach problem. Specifically, its lack of Black ones. If we’re talking about equal opportunity or diversity or any other word you’d use, it doesn’t exist in the NFL unless you’re an athlete risking your life on the field.
Almost exactly a year ago, on the eve of the Super Bowl, I wrote about this injustice: How the NFL, where more than one in two players are Black, had hardly any Black coaches. Not only is that still the case, but they’ve regressed: there are fewer Black head coaches now than there were when the season began—down to an appalling count of one.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve watched the discrimination behind that disparity play out in real time. I’m happy anytime anyone gets a job, but it sure seems like the white guys are having an easier time becoming head coaches and general managers nowadays, while Black coaches are held to an entirely different standard.
So what’s happened since the last Super Bowl? I’ll start with the most recent news: Despite turning the Miami Dolphins around from 1-7 to 9-8 in two months, head coach Brian Flores—who I applauded as one of two Black NFL coaches last year—lost his job this month. Only the day before he was fired, the Dolphins had beaten the Patriots to close out the season. Even though they’d ultimately come up half a game short of the postseason, it’s hard to watch footage of Flores’s players celebrating in the end zone after that final victory without smiling. Those guys were happy, proud, and sure of how hard they’d worked. They loved their coach, too. Anyone who fosters an environment like that en route to a winning record deserves another season, right?
Well, evidently not.
Now, we can argue all day about the merits of a specific team or coach, or about whether a record just over .500 is worth celebrating. That’s fine. But here’s a question: when you see a guy like Flores—who led his team to its first consecutive winning seasons in nearly two decades—get shown the door that swiftly, do you wonder if his performance isn’t the only factor?
Do you wonder how the Dolphins’ owners could cut Flores because they didn’t “think we were really working well as an organization,” while praising their General Manager, who’s just as—if not more—responsible for the roster?
Do you wonder why, the very week Flores was let go, the Texans made a similar claim when they fired coach David Culley? “Philosophical differences” was the reason given for his removal—never mind the fact that Culley put up the same record with a rookie QB that his predecessor had with Deshaun Watson. Taking on the job during a turbulent time for the franchise, and putting in that performance should warrant another year—at least in my mind. Why didn’t the Texans see it the same way?
To answer that, maybe you need to ask another question: If Flores or Culley had been white, do you really think they’d have been fired after this season?
After all, have you seen the coaches and executives who were rewarded for posting records worse than Flores’ this year? Let’s go to Detroit first: a few weeks after the Dolphins’ decision, the Lions chose to keep their new head coach—despite finishing the season at 3-13. And that’s a year after going 5-11! I’m not trying to get personal, but this is sports. A record is what it is.
But while the press around Brian Flores scrutinized his relationships with players, the Lions’ losses under coach Dan Campbell barely got as much coverage as his coffee order. (I’m not joking!) Plain and simple: while Black coaches are fired for making the most out of a bad hand, multiple seasons of below-average performance won’t stop a white coach from being praised.
It’s not only the NFL, either: UCLA just renewed head coach Chip Kelly’s four-year contract, after his original college team, Oregon, made moves to poach him back. I watched as both teams clamored for his attention last December. Kelly has coached in college and the pros. His record at UCLA is a mediocre 18-25. In the NFL—where Kelly was accused by players and pundits of offloading Black talent—he went 28-35. Yet he’s still in high demand as a coach. Isn’t this game supposed to be all about winning?
I’m not saying Kelly didn’t deserve those jobs—that’s not my decision to make. But at a certain point, you have to start connecting the dots.
So let me do exactly that: Know what those fired coaches have in common? They’re Black men, and they were overqualified for their jobs. Culley was the oldest first-time head honcho in the league. Flores spent a decade helping lead the Pats to multiple Super Bowls before he could get a promotion. So when you watch them get fired, while some of their white peers continue to ascend no matter what, it’s worth pointing out that football has a bias problem. Are Black coaches truly given the same deal as the rest of their contemporaries? Are they granted the same opportunities? The same salaries? Are they cut the same amount of slack? I’ll let you guess the answers there—or research them yourself.
I’ve always loved football for a hundred different reasons—not least of which is the way it highlights perseverance. I love to see athletes give their minds, bodies, and souls on any field. But I can’t support a league where bias is as deeply ingrained as hard work—so deeply that no one seems to care. When you’re a multibillion dollar professional sports organization, your bias plays out in plain sight for a nationwide audience, week after week. And there’s no incentive to change your ways unless money is on the line. So until someone makes enough noise for the NFL to consider meaningful change, I cannot keep spending my weekends supporting the league.
I want to be able to watch the Super Bowl next to my kids, knowing they’ll see people who look like them on the field and the sidelines. I want them to know that the next great strategic mind might belong to a coach who isn’t necessarily white. Because I know they’re out there, future Belichicks and Lombardis and Maddens who happen to not be white men. Football needs to promote those who have proved themselves—and keep them around.