Dear Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio,
I read the transcript when you spoke with reporters in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. Like many of us, you were “shocked, angry and sad” at what you were witnessing. However, the comments you made thereafter were confusing, to say the least, and drew the ire of many around the country. In regards to racism and discrimination in the NFL, you said:
“I think our problems in the NFL along those lines are minimal. We’re a league of meritocracy. You earn what you get. You get what you earn…”
The Cambridge Dictionary defines meritocracy as a social system, society or organization in which people get success because of their abilities. In my opinion, football has NEVER, at any level, been a meritocracy.
I’ve spent nearly half my life playing football. After my five-year professional career ended and I began to work in the front office of an NFL team. It only solidified what I originally suspected: there are always other factors that contribute to who plays and who doesn’t. It is never solely based on one’s ability. In fact, don’t the recent changes to the Rooney Rule indicate that the NFL is, in fact, NOT a meritocracy? Otherwise, why would there be a need to implement and later change a rule created to expose decision-makers to qualified candidates who may be overlooked due to factors other than their ability?
Coach, maybe you’re like many of us who often speak through the prism of our own personal experiences. I remember “talking ball” with you while you were on staff at Stanford. I know you watched three people (Derek Mason, David Shaw, and Willie Taggert) on that staff who were younger than you get a head coaching opportunity before you. Could your perspective derive from being passed over for head coaching positions seemingly for reasons other than your ability? Ironically, that very experience is synonymous with that of others in this country.
“I don’t see racism at all in the NFL. I don’t see discrimination in the NFL.”
Coach, you may not “see” racism in the NFL, but rest assured people of color “feel” racism in the NFL. The very NFL that is comprised of 70% African Americans. However, that same African American community is underrepresented in some of the most prominent positions at all levels in the NFL. There are three Black head coaches, two general managers, zero team presidents, zero COO/CEOs, and there has NEVER been a Black majority owner.
However, there have been strides with the quarterback position, with approximately 25% of starting QBs in 2019 being of African American descent. This is significant because for many years it was implied that Black players were not intelligent enough to play QB in the NFL. In fact, it was told to me that the Carolina Panthers owner at the time told Cam Newton that if he didn’t wear his earrings and get any more tattoos that they would strongly consider taking him No. 1 overall. All of this can be interpreted as Black people are good enough to play for us, but when it comes to the really important positions, you have to fit the mold of something we’re comfortable with to be considered.
“If society reflected an NFL team, we’d all be great.”
Ironically, society does reflect an NFL team, to some degree. It’s a society in which most of the powerful decision-makers typically aren’t people of color.
Coach, I understand that we are in unprecedented times. The NFL has a significant equal opportunity and inclusion crisis on their hands. However, I’m optimistic that the league is headed in the right direction because of key people who are championing the cause of inclusion and working to eradicate systemic racism.
Personally, I feel extremely blessed to have earned my first NFL job as an intern working under former Arizona Cardinals general manager Rod Graves, who is currently the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance. I was then hired full time by five-time Executive of the Year and ESPN’s NFL personnel man of the decade Scott Pioli, who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the NFL more inclusive and diverse while also leading the charge for more women in the NFL.
I work with an amazing team at TDN, which was orchestrated in part by Kevin Warren—who up until September was the highest-ranking Black executive on the business side of an NFL front office as COO of the Minnesota Vikings. Kevin currently serves as commissioner of the Big Ten. I’m honored to have a direct line to people like Paraag Marathe, EVP of Football Operations for the 49ers. He’s a pioneer for analytics in the NFL, one of the only Indian Americans working in the league, and is widely considered the best in the business at what he does. Not to mention the Rooney Family, the Harbaugh Family, and many others, so I’m optimistic that the NFL is in good hands with talented and smart people who care about underrepresented communities.
Coach, it is not up to me to determine your level of sincerity in your apology and it would waste valuable time to wonder if it was derived from the level of public backlash you’ve received. I’m solution-oriented and I only want to know if you’re in the fox hole with me, fighting for equality and inclusion while working to eliminate social injustice. Let’s work toward finding a solution. I believe we can do that if we all have a little more empathy, better listening skills, and the courage to turn words into action. Are you with me?
- Sep 29, 2023
- Sep 27, 2023