This week the NFL made an attempt to improve minority hiring on their coaching staffs and front offices. The first reported proposals centered on awarding better draft positions for minority hires. If a team hired a minority for their vacant head coach or GM position, teams would improve their third round draft position by six to ten spots. NFL teams could also receive other draft compensation for hiring minorities for top level coaching positions such as coordinators or quarterback coach. Both these proposals where Hail Mary passes to solve simple problems. Both were very embarrassing and put the spotlight on a bunch of white billionaires trying to correct minority issues.
The NFL finally came up with some reasonable solutions. Requiring teams to interview more minorities for head coaching and coordinator positions and easing the anti-tampering rules for teams in the playoffs. Teams are now required to interview two minority candidates for head coaching positions and at least one candidate for the three top coordinators. The Rooney Rule was expanded to include interviewing minorities and/or women for team president and senior executives. Finally, a minority coaching fellowship program will be created to establish a larger pool of qualified candidates for coaching and front office positions. Over the last three years, 70% of head coaches have come from the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach positions. Increasing the minority candidates at these two positions is a great idea.
The Browns have always been at the forefront of minority diversity. They became the first team to sign black players in the league. When the All-American Football Conference was founded in 1946, Paul Brown signed two African American players, fullback Marion Motley and defensive lineman Bill Wills. At first, the new league resisted but after intense discussions relented and agreed to allow black players in the league. Motley was a force on offense and Wills a force on defense for the Browns leading the way to five championships. This took place one year before Jackie Robinson played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s the NFL had black players and one black player/coach, Fritz Pollard. But the owners of the teams came to a gentleman’s agreement to keep black players out of the league because of public pressure. After Wills and Motley were signed by the Browns, the L.A. Rams followed suit and signed Woody Strode and Kenny Washington.
Mike Brown, Paul Brown’s son, was once asked about his father signing black players, to which he said”When he coached at Massillon High School, he had many black players on his teams. When he coached at Ohio State, he had many black players on his team. When he coached in the service, the same thing was true. When he got to the Cleveland Browns, he looked around and he knew where he had better football players than he had with the Browns. Guys who formerly played for him.”
Brown said his father wasn’t a civil rights crusader, ”He didn’t do it for any other reason than to make the team better. It wasn’t to sell tickets in the sense of drawing people because we had a couple black guys on the team.” When asked if his father was aware that in today’s world he would be considered a pioneer, Brown said, ”He was a person of his times and he had high standards and he believed people should be treated the same. He was going to make sure that these guys got treated the same.”
Former Browns player Bobby Mitchell recalled an incident in Miami when the Browns were checking into their hotel. The manager informed Paul Brown the hotel could not accommodate the black players. ‘Paul Brown looked him right in the eye and told him that their team “stays together.” They had words, and finally Paul even threatened to board the team plane and return home, which finally caused the hotel to relent.
The NFL’s attempt to improve minority hiring in the league is worthy of applause. It seems a little late, due to the fact that over 70% of the league’s players are minorities. But better late than never. When in comes to minority diversity, the Browns have been at the forefront from the beginning and continue to this day with the hiring of Andrew Berry as their GM. It’s good to see the rest of the league is finally catching up to the Browns. They’ve always been ahead of the curve. Go Browns.