Commissioner Roger Goodell: NFL to re-examine everything related to diversity, hiring of minority head coaches

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the league plans to reevaluate everything it is doing as it pertains to diversity and the hiring of minority head coaches, including re-examining the Rooney Rule.

“What we’re going to do is step back and look at everything we’re doing today, reevaluate that, everything from looking at the Rooney Rule and what changes should be made with that, or should it be removed, as some people have suggested,” Goodell said during his news conference outside SoFi Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LVI. “All of those things are part of that. We’re going to talk to other people, have independent people come in and look and help us evaluate, because it’s sometimes hard to evaluate your own policies and procedures and make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to create that opportunity for everybody, and make sure we are an inclusive league and make sure we get the outcomes we want, and that our policies truly are effective with outcomes.”

Goodell’s comments on Wednesday were his first public remarks since former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court on Feb. 1 against the NFL and three of its teams alleging a pattern of racist hiring practices and other forms of racial discrimination.

The NFL issued a statement the day the lawsuit was filed saying Flores’ allegations were “without merit.” This past Saturday, Goodell issued a memo to all 32 teams in which he said that the results of the league’s efforts to promote diversity within its head coaches have been “unacceptable” and that “we understand the concerns expressed by coach Flores and others this week.”

Goodell was asked Wednesday if he could understand why people could be confused by the league’s initial response and the subsequent memo.

“It’s a good question which I’ve asked in our office and we’ve talked about it,” Goodell said. “I think the initial reaction was regarding the legal claims themselves and not really what we would say the experiences of what coach Flores was going through, and that’s what I’m more interested in. I put the legal claims and the legal process to the side and that’ll be handled by lawyers.

“To me, it’s more important for us to sort of listen to coach, understand what he and other coaches are going through, what our clubs are going through, the feedback they have and also again, re-evaluate everything we’re doing, let’s see, are we making mistakes that we subconsciously are doing or didn’t think was a mistake? We have to be open to every one of those and so, I admire and respect coach a lot and so I hope we’ll get a lot of feedback not just from coach Flores but everybody in this league. That’s what going to make us better.”

Flores’ lawsuit also alleged that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season in an effort to obtain the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Ross issued a statement last week in which he said he takes “great personal exception to these malicious attacks” and said “we will cooperate fully” with the NFL’s expected investigation.

Goodell told reporters he found all of the allegations in Flores’ suit to be “very disturbing.”

“They are very serious matters to us on all levels and we need to make sure we get to the bottom of all of them,” Goodell said. “Integrity of the game is, obviously, an important element, just as making sure we have the right culture in our organizations across the league and at clubs. But we are going to look into that and we will make sure that if there were violations, that they won’t be tolerated. I couldn’t speculate on what they’ll be because we’ll have to find out what the facts are, what’s the outcome? And when we know what those facts are and the impact it has on our game, we’ll deal with it very seriously, just as we will if there’s any discrimination in the league. They will be dealt with very seriously.”

The NFL just saw a hiring process conclude that included nine teams in search of a new head coach. Of the nine openings, two went to minority candidates: Mike McDaniel (Dolphins) and Lovie Smith (Texans). McDaniel, who is multi-racial, and Smith join Ron Rivera, Robert Saleh and Mike Tomlin as the league’s only minority coaches.

Goodell was asked if the interview process is flawed and unfair to minority candidates, and, if so, what the league would do to try to address that.

“I think one of the things that we shouldn’t do is throw out any conclusions without really looking at that,” Goodell said. “I don’t think you take anything off the table until you’ve had people look at that, help us independently say, is there something flawed with our process? And if there is, what can we do to resolve that and fix that? And so, for me to sit here and say I know something, if I knew something was flawed with our process in any area, we would be addressing it, and we’ve made a lot of changes in the last few years to try to address things that we thought could be helpful.

“One of the big things that we’ve discussed and I think has been helpful in the process, was our database, and developing a database that had a tremendous amount of information in there for the clubs as they began the process. We’ve also looked at what aspects of the process we want to formulate through our policies. But that all has to be looked at, and what else we can do to make it better. And I don’t take anything off the table. If that’s something that I think outside experts will be helpful to us, in making sure that something we thought we were doing well, maybe we’re not doing so well, hopefully that’ll help us get to a better solution.”

In 2020, the NFL amended the Rooney Rule to stipulate teams must interview at least two minority candidates not associated with their own team for a head coaching vacancy. Also, one minority candidate has to be interviewed for coordinator positions as well as high-ranking positions in the front office, including the general manager role.

Goodell was asked at what point does the league begin to consider a potential overhaul of its hiring practices.

“You don’t take anything off the table so, if it requires an overhaul, you do it,” Goodell said. “If it requires changes in other areas, you do it. I think, obviously, we haven’t been successful to date so we’ve got to look at every one of those alternatives, and we’re going to have other people look at it independently, as well as with us, and bring those ideas.”

NFL Network’s Jim Trotter outlined to Goodell data that reflects the league’s struggles to hire Black people in key decision-making roles in team front offices, at the league level, within the newsroom at NFL Media and how 13 franchises have never hired a Black non-interim head coach.

“We look at the same numbers and they’re really part of the effort that, again, looking at how do we become more effective in our policies and procedures,” Goodell said. “We work really hard, we believe in diversity, we believe in it as a value, we believe it’s made us stronger, how people have come into the league who are diverse have been very successful and made us better and we just have to do a better job. Is there another thing that we can do to make sure we’re attracting that best talent here and making our league inclusive? If I had the answer right now, I would give it to ‘ya, I would’ve.’

“I think what we have to do is just continue and find and look and step back and say, ‘We’re not doing a good enough job here.’ We need to find better solutions and better outcomes and so, let’s find more effective policies, let’s make sure everyone understands, let’s make sure that we’re looking at diversity and, actually, incentivizing that for everybody in our building, including with compensation. Let’s make sure that when we’re dealing with vendors outside the building, we’re hiring diverse vendors and bringing them in and giving them an opportunity to succeed, just like we do with white vendors, or (in regard to) people of color, how can they come in and contribute to the NFL.

“So, I think it’s not a single answer … the single responsibility comes on all of us in the NFL, and we have to be the ones that make that change and we are the ones that have to make sure we bring diversity deeper into our NFL and make the NFL an inclusive and diverse organization, that allows everyone the opportunity to be successful.”

Goodell also said the league has been looking for diverse ownership candidates and he has personally met with businessman Byron Allen, who is Black and has expressed interesting in purchasing the Denver Broncos franchise. The Pat Bowlen Trust announced Feb. 1 that it is in the “beginning of a sale process” for the franchise.

“We would love to see a diverse owner of the team,” Goodell said, though he added there was no timetable on the sale and underscored that the Broncos were selling the team, “not the NFL.”

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