The NFL’s Position Play
Sometimes an unlikely source can serve as inspiration for great change. A guest appearance could be the catalyst for a world-renowned organization’s next significant stride toward diversity and inclusiveness.
In this case, the source is Condoleezza Rice and the organization is the National Football League. In 2021, the NFL was employing a record 12 women as coaches. Now, Ms. Rice thinks the time is right for a woman to step into a role as an offensive or defensive coordinator, followed by a head coaching role.
Ms. Rice, who served as the 66th United States Secretary of State from 2005-2009, was a guest of Peyton and Eli Manning’s ESPN2 Monday Night Football telecast on Nov. 22.
In a discussion of the increasing presence of women in prominent positions throughout the NFL, Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning asked Ms. Rice what she considered the next logical hiring steps.
“I’m really glad to see women in the front offices, that makes a big difference,” Ms. Rice began, “and women on the field as officials, that’s a wonderful breakthrough, and increasingly on coaching staffs. I think the next breakthrough is to see if women can find their way into (being) position coaches because if you’re a position coach, you’ve got a shot then at (offense or defensive) coordinator.”
In the past decade, professional sports leagues including the NFL have taken great strides toward inclusiveness and diversity.
Less than seven years ago, there were no women coaching in the NFL. Today there are 12.
The breakthrough came in 2015 when the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter as an intern assistant coach. In 2016, Kathryn Smith became the first woman to be a fulltime coach in the NFL when the Buffalo Bills appointed her special teams quality control coach.
The New York Jets took a major step in 2017 when they hired Collette Smith as a training camp intern. Smith, who worked with the team’s defensive backs, became the first black woman to coach in the NFL. It took four more years for an NFL team to hire another woman as coach. But finally in 2021, the Washington Football Team (now the Commanders) made Jennifer King the league’s first black woman to work as a full-time NFL coach. King is Washington’s assistant running backs coach.
Ms. Rice is hopeful that women will continue to be hired and promoted to more prominent coaching positions.
“I’ve never thought that you’re just going to put a woman in there (as a head coach),” Rice said. “You’re going to have to have somebody who goes through that progression (to first become a coordinator, then head coach).” I’m really proud of what the women in the NFL are doing.”
Of the 12 women working as coaches for NFL teams this season, eight benefited by attending the Women’s Careers in Football Forum. The NFL created the WCFF in 2016 to broaden coaching horizons for women. The forum includes a two-day intensive sessions covering topics such as team operations, research and strategy, and strength/conditioning coaching. The NFL reports that this forum has always ensured 50% of the participants are women of color. The 2021 forum had a record 75%, as 30 of the 40 participants were women of color. Since the program began, the NFL reports 83% of women hired from the WCFF have been women of color.
Statistics like these are encouraging, and served as the basis for Ms. Rice’s appearance on the recent Monday Night Football telecast. Rice is a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, and in 2018 ESPN’s NFL insider Adam Schefter reported the Browns were interested in interviewing her for the team’s head coaching vacancy. Nothing became of the rumor, a coaching interview never took place, but the potential news did introduce Ms. Rice to a myriad of NFL fans.
During Monday Night Football telecast, the Mannings did not ask Rice about the Cleveland Browns story, although Rice had previously laughed off the rumor by saying “I certainly don’t want to be a head coach.”
Although she has no interest in coaching, Ms. Rice said she does expect to see a female head coach in the NFL.
“It’s high time because you do not have to have played this game necessarily to understand it and I think to coach it well,” Rice said to conclude her Monday Night Football interview.
Indeed. And we think Condoleeza would agree that it is high time any organization dominated by men finally provides tangible opportunities to women for positions of leadership. It has been a long time coming, way too long. Although you cannot purchase stock in the NFL, when looking at investing opportunities, board diversity and socially responsible hiring practices is a must.
Jude Calaccio, Contributing Author