Under a baking California sun, Roger Goodell knew the heat was coming.
At his annual Super Bowl news conference Wednesday, the NFL commissioner was grilled on two hot topics that have put the league under heavy scrutiny: racism and discrimination in hiring. There were other issues that don’t shine a positive light on pro football, including threats to the integrity of the sport, and misconduct by players and team executives.
A week after former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who is Black, filed a lawsuit alleging both racism in the league and being offered money by team owner Stephen Ross to tank games, Goodell vowed action on several fronts.
“We won’t tolerate racism. We won’t tolerate discrimination,” Goodell said. “I found all of the allegations, whether they were based on racism or discrimination or the integrity of our game, all of those to me were 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.”
That begins with the NFL’s poor record for hiring minorities as head coaches. While the league has made progress with other jobs, from general managers to coordinators, the most visible representative of a franchise is the coach. There are five minority head coaches on the 32 teams, two Black, one biracial, one Hispanic and one Lebanese. Approximately 70% of NFL players are Black.
Asked if the process is flawed, from how interviews are conducted to who might be conducting them, Goodell said the league already is looking into that — whether it involves changes in the Rooney Rule that requires interviews of minority candidates for coaching and executive jobs, or a new rule entirely.
“I think that’s the core of the message that we’ve been talking about here is, OK, we’re not having this success we want with head coaches,” he noted. “How do we evolve that rule or do we have to have a new rule? Do we need to figure out some other way of being able to achieve that outcome? And I think we’re not going to rest until we find that and we get those kind of outcomes that I think are mandatory for us. That just has to be the way we’re going to move forward to happen inclusively.”
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, said the Rooney Rule has turned into a “suggestion.”
“How important is a rule where it has no consequences? How strong is a rule where it has no transparency? How good is a rule if no one is held accountable to it?” Smith said shortly after Goodell left the stage. “But here’s the kicker, for a long time, people talked about how good the Rooney Rule was, we just needed to tweak it.”
The league, with help from an independent firm, has been putting together a set of guidelines for several months that will be available to the teams in the spring. It will, they hope, lead to “an optimization of the hiring process,” according to Jonathan Beane, the chief diversity and inclusion officer.
Flores’ charge of being offered $100,000 for each loss in 2019 to get the Dolphins to the top of the draft is being investigated by the league.
“And when we know what those facts are and the impact it has on our game, we’ll deal with it very seriously,” Goodell said.
What could have been a bright, cloudless afternoon gathering, with SoFi Stadium in the background and the Super Bowl back in the Los Angeles area for the first time in 29 years instead was filled with penetrating queries on a variety of subjects.
—Goodell defended the league using an oral report from an outside investigator into the work culture at the Washington Football Club, now the Commanders. He did not answer whether results of a new investigation into team owner Dan Snyder’s conduct will be released in a written report.
He also said the league did not make a deal with Snyder to have his approval for the release of any new information. The NFL announced Wednesday it was overseeing the investigation after Washington said the team had hired an outside investigator to look into allegations by former team employee Tiffani Johnston. She told Congress that Snyder groped her thigh at a team dinner and pushed her toward his limousine with his hand on her lower back years ago.
—New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara now is out of jail after he was arrested over the weekend on a felony charge alleging he beat and injured a person at a Las Vegas nightclub following the Pro Bowl. Goodell said the NFL’s security team was contacted by police in Las Vegas just before the game. Police wanted to meet with Kamara after the game and the security team made sure that happened.
—Goodell and other league officials have met with media mogul Byron Allen about his interest in buying the Denver Broncos and bringing diversity to ownership. The NFL has no majority Black owners and only two minority owners with Shad Khan in Jacksonville and Kim Pegula, who owns the Bills along with her husband, Terry.
Goodell added there are other minority candidates interested in buying teams.
__The NFL will play a regular-season game in Munich next season, part of a four-year deal to stage games in Germany.
The league has expanded its horizon in Europe after years of only playing games that count in England. The 2022 game will be part of a four-game series played abroad that also will include games in London. There also will be an additional game in Munich and two in Frankfurt over the next four seasons.
Participating teams will be revealed when the schedule is released in the spring.
Goodell also says the league will return to Mexico City next season. There was no game there in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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