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NFL Defends Policies

October 02, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The NFL, threatened with a lawsuit over the lack of black head coaches, defended its hiring practices Tuesday and said the league has taken steps to improve in that area.

"We take the issue very seriously and have initiated several programs in recent years under Commissioner [Paul] Tagliabue to ensure that our hiring practices are fair, and that all coaches have opportunities to advance," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

But Cyrus Mehri, a prominent civil rights attorney, said the NFL has done far too little in providing black coaches and executives the opportunities they deserve--especially considering 67% of the league's players are black.

"The issue has been festering for years," said Mehri, who served as counsel in major race discrimination cases involving Texaco and Coca-Cola. "The NFL is actually losing ground, not gaining ground. Commissioner Tagliabue's good intentions are not getting the job done."

On Monday, Mehri and attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. released a study to reporters that details the league's hiring practices over the last 15 years. The report notes that on average black coaches have been more successful than white coaches, yet have not been hired at a rate that reflects that.

There are two NFL head coaches who are black--Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Herman Edwards of the New York Jets--and Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens is the league's only general manager who is black.

Aiello pointed out that in the last five years, 23 blacks have been interviewed for coaching positions and three were hired: Dungy, Edwards and Ray Rhodes, by Green Bay in 1999. But, according to Mehri, several of those interviews were conducted over the phone, not in person.

Statistics indicate far more progress has been made in the hiring of assistant coaches. In 1980, there were 14 black assistants in the NFL, none of them coordinators. By 1997, there were 103 black assistants, and this season 157 of the 547 assistants are black, including 12 coordinators who are black.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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