BALTIMORE, Md. (–The news that Black coaches in the National Football League have superior performances yet receive inferior opportunities adds another high profile company to the growing list of employers that allegedly discriminate against Blacks in hirings and firings.

Employment discrimination attorneys Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. and Cyrus Mehri, called on the NFL to reform its hiring with new procedures that ensure Black coaches have a fair chance to compete for open positions or face a lawsuit.

“We want Black coaches who’ve demonstrated superior performance to also have superior opportunities,” said Mr. Cochran. “Our motives are driven not by finances but to improve America’s game.”


The lawyers joined with a labor economist, Dr. Janice Madden of the University of Pennsylvania, who analyzed the data of Black NFL coaches over the past 15 years, and Floyd Keith of the Black Coaches Association, to release findings of racial discrimination in NFL hiring in a Sept. 30 report.

“The unprecedented data presented in this report proves what we’ve known anecdotally for years–that Black coaches face higher hurdles in becoming head coaches in the NFL and are held to a higher standard when hired,” said Mr. Mehri, whose firm Mehri & Skalet, PLLC, a leading civil rights and employment discrimination company prepared the report.

“We’re at the lowest point in 10 years. Qualified Black candidates are not even interviewed for head coaching positions,” Mr. Mehri said.

The NFL joins the likes of Cocoa Cola, Texaco and the federal government–all were accused of discrimination and defended their equal opportunity employment efforts.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press that 23 Black candidates have been interviewed in the last five years. “Progress has been made and we expect that progress to continue. We take the issue very seriously and have initiated several programs in recent years under commissioner (Paul) Tagliabue to ensure that our hiring practices are fair, and that all coaches have opportunities to advance,” Mr. Aiello told AP.

But the lawyers say the facts show a very different picture.

The report compared the overall performance of Art Shell, Dennis Green, Tony Dungy, Ray Rhodes and Herman Edwards, the five Black coaches hired in the NFL since 1986.

It found that Black coaches averaged 1.1 more wins per season than the White coaches and led their teams to the playoffs 67 percent of the time versus 39 percent of the time for White coaches.

In their first season, Black coaches average 2.7 more wins than the White coaches in their first season and in their final season, terminated Black coaches won an average of 1.3 more games than terminated White coaches.

The Black coaches inherited teams with an average of 7.4 wins per season and during their tenures, increased the average wins for their teams to 9.1 per season.

“For years, we’ve beaten the drum of equity in hiring. This issue has been around for years in the NFL, on the college level and even in high school football. These statistics speak volumes,” said Floyd Keith of the Black Coaches Association.

Mr. Mehri pointed to assistant coach Marvin Lewis, who helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2000, as an example of how talented Blacks are overlooked. “Mr. Lewis was the architect of the greatest defense in the NFL. He’s the best defensive coach in history. He’s barely had a chance for an onsite interview. Marvin is not a head coach and he should be. He’s not had a fair chance,” said Mr. Mehri.

Mr. Lewis is now the defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins.

“Fans are denied the best coach regardless of race. Players know they will have to retire but Black players don’t have a path to become head coaches like their counterparts,” added Mr. Mehri.

For some fans, the news that Black coaches are last hired and first fired, despite outperforming their White counterparts was not news at all.

“I’m a football fan and I see who the coaches are year after year,” said Fontaine Jefferson, II. “They just recycle the White men they know and don’t give the Black coaches the opportunities they deserve.”

“If I know this, the NFL owners know this too. They just don’t want the domino effect that happens when we get into sports, first it’ll be more Black coaches, then more Black general mangers and then more Black owners,” Mr. Jefferson said.

Black coaches who are hired are not rewarded for their superior performance and often find themselves the victims of a “quick hook,” the report found. Art Shell was fired after two straight winning seasons. Ray Rhodes was given one season in Green Bay. Tony Dungy was fired after transforming the Tampa Bay Bucs into a playoff contender.

Highly qualified Black coaches such as Mr. Shell and Sherman Lewis, are repeatedly excluded from serious contention for vacant head coaching positions, the lawyers complained.

The report suggests a “Fair Competition Resolution” to help resolve these inequities. The resolution outlines a process by which the NFL would award draft picks each year to teams diversifying front office positions by hiring qualified minority and female candidates.

The resolution also calls for each team to seriously interview a racially diverse final candidate slate prior to selecting head coaches, assistant coaches or offensive or defensive coordinators. Teams would have the option of opting out of this requirement, but at the cost of a significant draft pick.

“If adopted by the NFL, the commissioner will have the tools to do more than encourage the hiring of Black head coaches,” said Richard E. Lapchick, chair of the Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida. “This represents a step forward in making the debate about minority coaches more than just a debate,” said Mr. Lapchick.