The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On minority hiring and Daniel Snyder, the NFL produces mostly empty words

The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell need to address minority hiring and their differences with Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
5 min

Now that the hype and pomp of the Super Bowl are mercifully over, it is time for the NFL to get serious about the two issues that aren’t going to go away simply by wishing it so.

Most important is the lack of racial diversity in positions of authority around the league. Not nearly as important to those who don’t live in Washington, but very important to those who do, is the continuing Daniel Snyder embarrassment. Anyone who believes that Snyder has changed even a little since the semi-release of the Beth Wilkinson “investigation” no doubt believes the NFL truly believes in slogans such as “End racism now.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell is a smooth public performer, making sure to address questioners by name and shaking his head sadly at things that have gone wrong. His public relations team is equally slick, making sure Goodell isn’t asked follow-up questions and calling on as many people as possible who will ask softball questions.

Goodell kept referring to Brian Flores as “Coach” during his annual state-of-the-league news conference Wednesday, as if that would make people forget Flores was dumped by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross after back-to-back winning seasons and is suing the league for — among other things — putting him through job interviews that were clearly bogus.

But the best summation of Goodell’s hour on the outdoor podium came from a local Los Angeles TV reporter who was undoubtedly called on because Goodell’s moderator thought he would ask a softball question about how well L.A. had performed as a Super Bowl host. Instead, the reporter asked Goodell why he was acting as if racial inequity was a new issue that he and the league were wrestling with when “You’ve been the commissioner for 15 years.”

The same can be said of Goodell’s handling of the Snyder situation. When The Washington Post reported in July 2020 that Washington’s football team had been rife with a toxic atmosphere for women for years, the league stood aside and let Snyder announce he was going to investigate himself.

Snyder pledged support for NFL probe. His actions told a different story.

It wasn’t until six weeks later that the league announced it was “taking over” the investigation. Only it didn’t really take it over. Instead, it entered into a “common interest agreement” with the team, meaning no documents could be released unless both parties agreed to do so. In short, Snyder was still in control of what information became public.

Last week, after more revelations before a congressional committee about Snyder, the team again announced it was going to investigate itself — only to be overruled by the NFL a few hours later. Fool me once …

Then the leaks started: The NFL had told the congressional committee investigating Snyder and his organization that Snyder was the reason it had failed to turn over 109,000 pages of requested documents. Snyder — naturally — denied the charge.

Who’s lying here? Probably, to some degree, both sides. The NFL expecting Snyder to stop lying, covering up, blocking and bullying is a little bit like expecting a poisonous cobra not to bite you. You are who you are.

The Snyder issue is far less complicated than the race issue. For all of Goodell’s warbling about the rate of Black hiring being “unacceptable,” there’s no sign that any of the 30 White owners (plus the publicly-owner Packers) and the Jaguars, owned by Shahid Khan (who has never hired a Black general manager or coach) care very much about the issue.

Brian Flores fought for his own place in football

There is only so much Goodell can do other than be the out-front guy for the owners. He can talk to them all he wants about the need to be more open to hiring Black coaches and executives, but he can’t make them do it.

He might have had something to do with Lovie Smith being hired by the Houston Texans. Rumors were rife that the Texans wanted to hire oft-retired quarterback Josh McCown — whose coaching experience was as a high school assistant. That was before Flores filed his suit at a time when the first four 2022 head coaching vacancies had been filled by White coaches.

In the aftermath of the Flores lawsuit, Smith got the Texans job and Mike McDaniel, who is biracial, got the Dolphins job. Probably not a coincidence. Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy didn’t get hired, nor did Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich — who was supposedly the Jaguars’ No. 1 choice at one stage — nor did Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

That’s just to name three qualified Black candidates, in addition to Flores.

In May, I asked NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy if I could interview Goodell as part of the research for my recent book, “Raise a Fist, Take a Knee.”

The Brian Flores experience? ‘That’s the reality for most Black coaches.’

In turning down my request, McCarthy wrote , “The commissioner is focused on doing the work to make improvements in NFL policies and programs that will lead to more opportunities and better outcomes for diversity hires across all areas of the league and teams.”

The only thing that’s certain is that when it comes to producing more than empty words, the NFL continues to come up empty.