DENVER – As Denver Broncos leaders publicly defend the organization against a discrimination lawsuit filed by former head coach candidate Brian Flores, coaches throughout the Denver metro are discussing the implications the case will have on future coaches of color.
“Society teaches Black and brown children how to be employees, but they do very little to teach them how to be employers,” Athletics and Beyond Executive Director Narcy Jackson said.
Athletics and Beyond is a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk youth succeed in sports and in the classroom.
Jackson said while some of the students want to pursue careers in coaching, many are discouraged by the lack of diversity at the head coach position within the NFL.
“What is it that our kids — our potential coaches — what is it that they see from the Broncos organization? They don't see diversity,” Jackson asked.
Jackson and Athletics and Beyond program director Kyle Reese, who is also a high school head coach, said the Brian Flores lawsuit is a symbol that more needs to be done to recruit professional coaches of color.
“I think the message is to young people that there’s even a limitation within the professional ranks and that’s unfortunate,” Reese said.
To increase diversity in coaching, some NFL teams have implemented their own diversity programs.
Last summer, the Broncos announced the Marlin Briscoe Diversity Coaching Fellowship, named after the first Black starting quarterback in the modern era of the NFL.
Back then, 15% of NFL teams were led by head coaches of color. Now, 9% of teams have head coaches from diverse backgrounds and only 1 NFL head coach is Black. For comparison, 59% of players in the NFL are Black.
“We know both at the college level and within the NFL that a lot of the coordinators and assistant coaches might be more representative of people of color. But once you get to the head coach level, it starts to dissipate,” University of Denver Associate Psychology Professor Apryl Alexander said.
Alexander said this calls into question the NFL's efforts towards being more inclusive.
“Everybody wrote their Black Lives Matter statements, everybody wrote their diversity plans. But two years later, especially after the death of George Floyd, are we actually executing those plans? And in terms of the NFL, it seems like they're not,” Alexander said.
Jackson said he feels the same.
“You can put policy in place but do you practice it? Are we doing things that are popular for that moment and when it settles down we no longer want to practice those things?” Jackson asked. “You put a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound, but it's still bleeding, you can still see the wound.”
“I don’t necessarily think its fair to paint the Broncos as a racist organization. I don’t believe that, do I believe that what Brian Flores alleged the Broncos management of doing was unprofessional? Very much so,” Reese said. “It would be fair to ask yourself, would they have done that to a white coach?”
As for the NFL efforts to be more inclusive, Reese and Jackson said the numbers don’t reflect a genuine effort.
“I’ve known some coaches that have participated in those programs, in internships and going and coaching during training camp and those kinds of things,” Reese said.” I think from an NFL standpoint you can be more intentional in communicating what the outcomes, or desired outcomes of those programs are. Is it that we actually want Black head coaches or is that we want you come out and coach for the summer and gain that experience.”
Reese and Jackson said true change means the NFL and the Broncos in particular have to go beyond unity statements and acts of solidarity, and instead start opening the doors of inclusion at the very top.