NFL launches inaugural diversity networking event in advance of spring owners’ meetings

In an effort to foster improved opportunities and build relationships, the NFL is holding its inaugural diversity networking event next week in Atlanta in advance of the spring owners’ meetings.

More than 60 diverse head coach and general manager prospects, as many as two nominated per team, will meet with ownership representatives from all 32 franchises.

The intent is to upgrade hiring practices and create a better pipeline for becoming a more inclusive league by allowing owners to meet diverse job candidates. The program is called the “NFL Coach and Front Office Accelerator.”

“The NFL is committed to diversity and inclusion, and this program is the latest in a series of steps designed to improve our hiring practices and create opportunities for advancement,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “The program helps ensure that clubs receive exposure to high-performing, up-and-coming NFL talent and candidates get a chance to learn the business on a working level from team owners and executives.”

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank added, “I think the Accelerator is some of the most important work the league and our committee will do all year because the potential of the program is exponential. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for emerging leaders, owners and team leadership to get to know each other better over these two days, and the relationships formed in this setting will be integral to future hiring cycles.”

The NFL currently has one minority owner: Shad Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars). Additionally, the league only has five minority head coaches: Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Ron Rivera (Washington Commanders), Lovie Smith (Houston Texans), Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins), and Robert Saleh (New York Jets).

During the NFL owners’ meetings, the league started a new diversity advisory committee that includes former Texans general manager Rick Smith.

The NFL is now requiring that all teams have a minority or a female as an offensive assistant because there’s a trend toward hiring offensive coaches as head coaches. That position would be funded partially by the league through a stipend. The NFL also requires that all teams interview a woman for leadership positions, as the Minnesota Vikings did with Philadelphia Eagles vice president Catherine Raîche for their general manager position. Raîche is expected to be hired as the Cleveland Browns’ assistant general manager.

“It’s a recognition that at the moment, when you look at stepping stones for a head coach, they are the coordinator positions,” said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, the chairman of the NFL’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, during the annual NFL owners’ meetings. “We clearly have a trend where coaches are coming from the offensive side of the ball in recent years, and we clearly do not have as many minorities in the offensive coordinator [role].”

If a coach is already in that role, that will count, per NFL chief administrative officer Dasha Smith. Additionally, Women are now included in the Rooney Rule. Women and/or people of color can meet the requirement that teams interview two external minorities for top positions, including head coach and general manager. There isn’t a requirement to interview them.

Goodell, in a previous memo to all 32 teams’ chief executives and presidents, acknowledged that the league has a long way to go in terms of improving diversity.

In the wake of former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filing a class-action lawsuit against the NFL that alleges discrimination in the interview and hiring processes and in his dismissal from the AFC East franchise, Goodell spoke out.

“Racism and any form of discrimination is contrary to the NFL’s values,” Goodell wrote. “We have made significant efforts to promote diversity and adopted numerous policies and programs, which have produced positive change in many areas. However, we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches, the results have been unacceptable. We will reevaluate and examine all policies, guidelines, and initiatives relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including as they relate to gender.

“We understand the concerns expressed by Coach Flores and others this week. While the legal process moves forward, we will not wait to reassess and modify our strategies to ensure that they are consistent with our values and longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Here is the full list of coach and front office accelerator participants.

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