It has been like this for a while. Art Shell was named the head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989. Since then, 191 men have served as NFL head coaches, but only 24 (about 13 percent) have been African American. And the numbers are lower today than they were several years ago.
The NFL has not always treated African Americans fairly. When the league started in 1920 (as the American Professional Football Association), teams had some Black players. Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard, for example, was a speedy running back for the Akron Pros. Pollard became the league’s first Black head coach when he led the Pros in 1921.
From 1934 to 1946, however, there were no Black players in the NFL. No rule prevented Blacks from playing, but the owners of the teams agreed not to sign Black players.
Some owners claimed Black players were not good enough for the NFL, but this was not true. Finally, in 1946 the Los Angeles Rams signed running back Kenny Washington.
Slowly, owners began to sign more Black players. But it took 16 seasons for every NFL team to integrate. Washington’s football team, now called the Commanders, was the last team to integrate in 1962.
Still, Black players were not treated as well as White players. Coaches were reluctant to allow Blacks to play quarterback. The first Black player to get a chance to play quarterback was Marlin Briscoe in 1968.
At the time, some football people claimed Black players were not smart enough to play the demanding position of quarterback. Now, this seems ridiculous when many of the NFL’s top quarterbacks — Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts to name a few – are Black.
Since 2003, the NFL has tried to get teams to hire more African American head coaches under what’s called the “Rooney Rule.” Now, teams are required to interview at least two minority candidates when the team is selecting a new head coach or certain other positions.
Despite this rule, there are still not many African American head coaches. This is not just a problem in the NFL. Only 15 of the 131 college Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) head coaches (11 percent) are Black. There are no Black head coaches in the powerful Southeastern Conference (SEC).
The number of Black head coaches has been a problem in the NFL for a long time. It is time NFL owners and others to give African Americans the same chances as White coaches.
Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 27 sports books for kids. His most recent football book is “Gridiron: Stories From 100 Years of the National Football League.”
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