The Superbowl As a Measure of Progress

Even if you have no interest in the teams playing in today's Superbowl, you may be intrigued by a panel discussion of the NFL's inclusionary hiring practices which are credited with increasing the number of black coaches and general managers in professional football. The American Constitution Society offers a streaming video of the discusson, featuring "a senior NFL official, a legendary NFL player, a leading civil rights attorney and a respected sports journalist."

An ACS email explains the significance of today's coaching matchup and its broader implications for inclusionary hiring practices.

For the first time in NFL history, the winning coach of the Super Bowl will be African-American. While the history of African-American coaches in the NFL dates back to Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard in 1921, the next African-American head coach of an NFL team was not hired until 1989, when Art Shell was hired by the Oakland Raiders.

In 2002, the National Football League adopted the “Rooney Rule,” which requires any team engaged in hiring a head coach to assemble a diverse slate of candidates. At least in part as a result, there were a record seven black head coaches in the 2006 season, two of whom--Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears--now share the distinction of being the first African-American head coaches to lead their teams to the Super Bowl. In addition, with the appointment of Jerry Reese as General Manager of the New York Giants, the NFL now has a record six African Americans serving in General Manager or General Manager-equivalent positions. For more information on the history of this issue, visit the Fritz Pollard Alliance website. ...

The event highlighted the success of the NFL's inclusive hiring practices, and demonstrated the importance of inclusion in a broader social context. As ACS member Cyrus Mehri put it in a recent Washington Post interview, “I think you have to look at [the Rooney Rule] as a great success. . . . We came into this to change America's game. . . . Sunday gives us a chance to have America's game change America's consciousness."

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