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New NFL hiring rules aim to bring in more women and people of color

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The NFL has a diversity problem, and it acknowledged as much this week. The league announced a series of steps it says will help address the lack of diversity in prominent team positions like head coach and general manager. This move comes in the midst of a discrimination lawsuit filed against the football league last month. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: In the NFL, there are three coaches who identify as Black or biracial in a league where approximately 70% of the players are Black. The league's Rooney Rule, adopted in 2003, has required teams to interview minority candidates for head coach and other senior positions. Now for the first time, the NFL says teams have to actually hire, quote, "a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority" as an offensive assistant coach in 2022. In recent years, the trend has been to choose head coaches who've served in key offensive positions. This mandated hire is seen as a way to get more diverse candidates in those positions.

At the owners' meeting this week in Florida, the league announced other diversity steps as well - a six-person committee of advisors from outside the NFL to review the league's hiring practices and a commitment by teams to increase diversity among team owners, a fraternity that's almost entirely white. The first test of that commitment could be in Denver, where the NFL's Broncos are for sale. Speaking to reporters at the owners' meeting, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin, one of those few Black head coaches, said he's not sure all the initiatives amount to much.

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MIKE TOMLIN: I haven't been in any discussions. And, no, I don't have a level of confidence that would lead me to believe that things are going to be better. You know, I'm more of a show-me guy as opposed to a guy that sits around and talks about things.

GOLDMAN: Actual hiring of minorities, Tomlin says, will show him the NFL is serious about diversity.

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TOMLIN: You know, I think that we've pecked around the entire discussion of the subject, and we've done a lot of beneficial things. But we've got to land the plane. We've got to hire capable candidates.

GOLDMAN: The NFL acknowledges there need to be widespread improvements in diversity hires. It says there have been some. There are a record number of minority defensive coordinators - 15 - and an increase in minority general managers. There are now seven. Still, there's skepticism. And even more troublesome for the NFL, last month former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sued the league and three teams - Miami, Denver and the New York Giants - alleging discriminatory hiring practices against him and other Black coaches. The NFL says Flores' claims, quote, "are without merit." But the claims apparently are about to expand. According to multiple reports, two other NFL coaches will join Flores in his lawsuit when he files an amended complaint next month. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.