It’s been like that for a while. Art Shell was named head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989. Since then, 191 men have served as NFL head coaches, but only 24 (about 13%) have been African American. And the numbers are lower today than they were a few 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 black players. Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard, for example, was a fast running back for the Akron Pros. Pollard became the league’s first black head coach when he coached the pros in 1921.
From 1934 to 1946, however, there were no black players in the NFL. There were no rules preventing black players from playing, but team owners agreed not to sign black players.
Some owners claimed black players weren’t good enough for the NFL, but that wasn’t true. Finally, in 1946, the Los Angeles Rams signed running back Kenny Washington.
Slowly the owners began to recruit more black players. But it took 16 seasons for every NFL team to fit in. The Washington football team, now called the Commanders, was the last team to integrate in 1962.
Still, black players weren’t treated as well as white players. Coaches were reluctant to allow Black to play quarterback. The first black player to have the chance to play quarterback was Marlin Briscoe in 1968.
At the time, some footballers claimed that black players were not smart enough to play the demanding position of quarterback. Now, that sounds ridiculous when many of the NFL’s best 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 known as the “Rooney Rule.” Now, teams are required to interview at least two minority candidates when the team selects a new head coach or certain other positions.
Despite this rule, there are still not many African American head coaches. It’s not just a problem in the NFL. Only 15 of the 131 head coaches in the College Football Subdivision (FBS) (11%) 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’s time for NFL owners and others to give African Americans the same chances as white coaches.