Leveling the playing field


Ryan Saddler Sr.

Senior Ryan Saddler (No. 58) has played football since junior high and has never had a coach of color.

Jayne Abraham, Editor in Chief

Glancing along the sidelines of any NFL matchup, you are certain to find swarms of excited players broken up by focused coaches barking into headsets. And one fact is glaringly obvious: On teams where most of the players belong to minority groups, the overwhelming majority of coaches are white men.

However, that could all change.

Earlier this year, the NFL rolled out new guidelines, requiring all teams to hire an offensive assistant who belongs to a minority group or is a woman. The NFL’s Rooney Rule will now extend to women, as well. These efforts are coming after backlash targeted the league’s lack of diversity in upper coaching positions.

But what do the NFL’s demographics actually look like?

In a league in which 71% of the players are nonwhite, there are only three head coaching positions occupied by men of color. NBC News reported, “From 2012 to 2021, there were 62 head coaching hires in the league, and 51 of those jobs – 82 percent – went to white men.” A similar trend can be seen in general manager hirings, as well. 

NBC partially attributed this to the predominantly white candidate pool as those who previously held coaching positions were sought after for current head coaching jobs. NBC continued, “In that decade, NFL teams hired 119 offensive coordinators, and 107 of those positions went to white men, which is basically 90 percent. The figures were closer for defensive coordinators, but white men still held a strong advantage, capturing 61 of 100 defensive coordinator spots.”

While it may appear that the disparities in defensive coordinators are not as severe, the NFL today is defined by offensive dominance, meaning offensive coordinators are especially sought after and are more likely to be promoted to head coaching positions.

In addition to the predominantly white candidate pool, nepotism is another contributing factor to the lack of diversity in NFL coaching. A thorough article by Defector staff writer Kalyn Kahler reads, “Nepotism isn’t exclusively for white people… but the percentage of family hires is overwhelmingly white: 78.3 percent. Coaching is overwhelmingly white, of course – 75 percent of all NFL coaches are white, according to the league’s 2021 data – but how does a majority stay the majority? Hiring blood relatives certainly helps.”

Essentially, the NFL’s lack of diversity in coaching has deep roots. And such trends are not limited to professional football.

Senior Ryan Saddler has played football since junior high and will be continuing his football career next year at Grandview University. Saddler has never had a football coach of color. “I personally never looked at it as problematic,” he said. “I just assumed that it was a coincidence that we didn’t have any [football] coaches of color at PV, but looking back, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

Perhaps not a coincidence, but a distinct pattern of which the nation is taking notice.

Saddler further explained that though he appreciates the Rooney Rule and the NFL’s efforts to be more inclusive, it is disheartening that such guidelines must be in place, especially when they are often ineffective. “Representation in coaching is important in the NFL,” he continued. “It gives players hope that they can do bigger and better things once their football career is over, not just in coaching but in any and every field. It’s easier to relate to a coach that looks like you than one that doesn’t.”

In addition to an obvious deficit in coaches of color, the league also lacks female representation. During the 2021 NFL season, there were a record 12 female coaches in the league. But there are still no female head coaches, and most teams do not include any women on their coaching staff.

However, with new guidelines, sports aficionados like senior Sydney Dolphin feel hopeful. “I think their expansion of [the Rooney Rule] is going to create a lot of new opportunities for women in the sports industry,” she said. “I believe that women in the sports world are extremely intelligent and do a great job in what they do, so allowing them to potentially coach a team could change the program for good.”

But true equity takes intentional effort – and the NFL appears to be doing just that.

In 2017, the NFL created the Women’s Careers in Football Forum (WCFF), a two-day conference which intends to “inspire, educate and connect women actively working in football to other college and NFL football operations positions,” according to NBC Sports. And the endeavor has proven successful. In 2021, eight of the 12 female coaches in the NFL had attended the WCFF.

With the expansion of efforts to hire people of color through guidelines such as the Rooney Rule as well as events such as the WCFF, the NFL is promising greater equity to underrepresented groups.

And as the 2022 season draws nearer, the sidelines will reveal if these promises are empty or not.