Super Bowl 55: A victory for Diversity by Jake Austin

Super Bowl 55: A victory for Diversity by Jake Austin
Reading Time: 4 minutes.

Why the Tampa Bay super bowl victory also highlights a win for diversity and inclusivity in the NFL.

Since Tampa Bay’s dominant victory at Super Bowl 55 over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, much attention has been given to the impact that the championship has had. Particularly on cementing Tom Brady’s legacy as the GOAT and pushing Bruce Arians towards Hall of Fame consideration.

Another key consequence of the Super Bowl, however, is the step forward it signified in the inclusion of diversity at the highest level of American Football. Tampa Bay’s coaching staff was the most diverse in the NFL last year. As the group had a black coach in every major coordinator role, and it was the first team in league history to have two female coaches on a staff.

The hiring of Lori Locust as the assistant D. Line coach and Maral Javadifar as the assistant strength and conditioning coach meant that Tampa’s championship team reached another milestone of inclusivity. They became the first female coaches to win a Super Bowl. This after 49er’s offensive assistant Katie Sowers, the first woman to coach in a Super Bowl, participated last year.

Bruce Arians is about inclusivity

This is not the first time Arians has helped to push inclusivity into the game. He has a track record of helping women to get a foothold in the sport. His hiring of Jennifer Welter to his Arizona Cardinals coaching staff as an intern in 2015, for example, was the first time any woman had held a coaching position of any kind in the NFL.

Reflecting on why he deliberately includes female coaches on his team and explaining the diversity of his Super Bowl winning staff, Arians explained to the media after the Super Bowl that “the women were by choice […] inclusivity and diversity are great ways to teach. The more input from different types of voice, the better output you get.” Arians’ view that a diverse coaching staff leads to success is supported by the progression that teams who employed female coaches had last year. With six of the eight female coaches in the league on staffs that made the playoffs that season.

Another first was achieved during the playoffs when Locust and Javadifar faced off against the Washington Football team and Jennifer King. This was the first time female coaches had represented both teams in a playoff clash. King reached another significant milestone for diversity in the league as she became the first black woman to coach in the league as a coaching intern on the Washington Football Team. She has now been promoted as the team’s assistant running back coach for the 2021 season.

Women’s careers in football forum has an impact on diversity

King, like Locust, was given her start in the league by taking part in NFL’s women’s careers in football forum. An initiative started by the NFL in 2017 that represents the league’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. In these forums attendees take part in panel discussions. And networking activities with executives, coaches and industry experts to develop a pipeline for female talent in football operations roles. For both professional and collegiate football.

Since the inaugural event in 2017, 97 opportunities were earned by Forum participants. With Browns coach Callie Brownson gaining attention during the year as a prominent former attendee. Particularly when she became the first woman to coach a position group during an NFL game. That as interim tight ends coach in week 12 against the Bills, when Drew Petzing was unable to travel that weekend. Arians and six other head coaches took part in this year’s forum. And Arians demanded ten resumes from the attendees in the week following the event. So it seems that the NFL’s move towards inclusivity is a trend that will continue moving forward.

Diversity of the Buccs sideline Staff

Tampa Bay’s coaching staff not only offered a step forward in diversity through the hiring of women. But it also left a significant mark by having all coordinator roles under the authority of black coaches. Tampa Bay was the only team in the NFL last year to have all four positions filled by black coaches. With Bryon Leftwich as offensive coordinator, Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator, Keith Armstrong as special teams coordinator, and Harold Godwin as assistant head coach and run game coordinator.

We can give some context for the significant diversity of Bucs’ coaching staff. When the ten teams from Super bowl 50 to Super Bowl 54 are looked at, no team had any more than two 2 black coaches in these higher positions. And all together a total of only 7 black coaches filled these roles in the last five years. With Tampa Bay’s diverse staff and Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, five black coordinators that participated in Super Bowl 55. Hopefully highlighting the importancea and benefits of an inclusive coaching staff to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

What will follow?

The question remains, though, whether other teams will recognise this trend in a notorious copycat league. Disappointingly, the most recent cycle of head coaching hires did not show this shift toward increased diversity. The only African-American head coaches hired were Robert Saleh and David Culley. White men took the other five vacancies. Despite this lack of immediate progress, there is still hope that the NFL is moving in the right direction. Few minorities were hired as head coaches. But the appointment of Robert Saleh did make some progress. As he became the league’s first Muslim head coach when he was hired by the Jets.

The Rooney Rule – refined

The 2020 JC-2A resolution to the Rooney rule has added further incentive for teams to develop minority coaches. Both for head coach and/or GM positions. By rewarding teams who lost coaches to these positions with two third-round picks. This instead of the previous ruling. Which meant teams just had to interview ethnic minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations jobs. The Texans hiring of head coach David Culley was the first time that this amendment to the rule took place. With the Ravens compensated with two third-round picks as they lost their assistant head coach. (Although he also fulfilled the roles of wide receiver coach and passing coordinator).

Overall, the success of the league’s most diverse team combined with the NFL’s growing initiatives to further inclusivity and diversity, provides hope that the league is moving in the right direction.

Guest article from Jake Austin

Banner Image: Maral Javadifar & Lori Locust. Image from abc7ny.com

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