Last week, fired Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores and several former Washington soccer team employees shook up the soccer world when they went public with their stark and disturbing allegations of racism and sexism, respectively. On Saturday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took an important step by announced a workplace review, including the league’s employment policies and practices. But it can – and should – do more. For true accountability and meaningful change, the league should conduct a comprehensive civil rights audit that is truly independent and transparent. Civil rights audits are a relatively new tool for addressing harm and, when done well, can bring about real change.
Racism has simmered in the league for far too long. It is inexcusable that in a league of 32 teams and where 70% of the players are black, today there are only two black coaches and one multiracial coach, and that there have been 141 white coaches and only 19 coaches blacks since the first black head coach was hired in 1989. The Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003 in an attempt to address these disparities by requiring teams to consider at least one minority candidate for their coaching positions- chief. (It was amended in 2020 to include two external minority nominees for head coaching positions and at least one external minority nominee for coordinator, general manager and other leadership positions.) Rights Leaders civics who met with Goodell this week asked him to replace Rule Rooney.
Last week, several former employees of the Washington soccer team testified publicly at a roundtable convened by the U.S. House Oversight Committee about their work experience, which was marred by sexual harassment, verbal abuse and other misconduct by senior team officials over several years. The NFL assured former employees in their first allegations in 2020 that it would conduct an independent investigation into the team. Yet the House roundtable revealed that the review was not independent — at all. The league had entered into a common interest agreement with the Washington football team, thus undermining any pretense of independence.
Goodell frequently speaks passionately about his duty to defend the shield – a symbol of honor and integrity for the league. But these actions – the persistent racism and sexism and the lack of candor and transparency – belie that commitment. These actions do not create healthy and fair work environments, and they erode public faith and trust in the institution.
At a time when the NFL has seen record viewership online and on TV, the league risks alienating fans and miring it in damaging controversies involving workplace discrimination. America is based on the ideal that if you work hard, you can accomplish anything, regardless of your race or gender. Even as our nation struggles with discrimination, professional sport is a place where people believed extraordinary skills were a prerequisite for participation and where racial barriers were broken down long before they were removed from the rest of the world. company. In professional football, for example, the racial barrier was broken in 1946, when Kenny Washington became the first black player to sign a contract with the NFL, nearly 20 years before all Americans were guaranteed non- employment discrimination under federal law. Today, public belief about whether these rules and laws are having the intended results is collapsing. The NFL has the opportunity to not only right those wrongs, but to be a model, once again, for other institutions in our society.
Following Flores’ lawsuit, Goodell issued a memorandum to team general managers and club presidents, acknowledging that “[r]Acism and any form of discrimination are contrary to the values of the NFL” and that the results of its existing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion of head coaches have been “unacceptable”. His memorandum also calls for a review of “all policies, guidelines and initiatives relating to diversity, equity and inclusion, including in relation to gender” This is a good first step, but it must go further and be commit to retaining truly independent expert evaluators and following a transparent and accountable process A civil rights audit is the tool to achieve these goals.
What is a Civil Rights Audit? While companies routinely perform financial or legal audits, a civil rights audit is a different and emerging new tool. A civil rights audit is a comprehensive examination of an institution’s policies, practices, products and/or services and their discriminatory impact. This review is led by independent civil rights experts, engaging key stakeholders inside and outside the organization, and includes public reporting and a set of action items to address issues and creating healthy, equitable and inclusive outcomes.
As a civil rights attorney, I represented clients in employment discrimination complaints and led efforts to address systemic discrimination and create meaningful change. I was also an external stakeholder when civil rights audits were conducted by Airbnb and Starbucks. These audits were conducted in response to allegations of discrimination on their platform or in their services and resulted in concrete and significant changes. For example, after Airbnb received complaints of racial discrimination from people trying to rent accommodations, the company hired independent civil rights experts. These experts consulted with internal and external stakeholders, including employees, Airbnb hosts, civil rights groups, travel and tourism officials, and federal and state regulatory officials, who provided advice and feedback. . The audit opened and ended with public reporting, which is essential to rebuilding trust with the public, especially Airbnb hosts and customers. As a result of the audit, Airbnb adopted a targeted non-discrimination policy and a set of tools to allow Airbnb to monitor and better understand whether its new policy was having the desired impact.
The keys to a successful civil rights audit are clear: find independent civil rights experts, involve all key stakeholders, inside and outside the company, and share the scope, analysis and conclusions with the public. These audits should serve as a useful and valuable guide for the NFL.
As a football fan, it has been disheartening to see talented black coaches too often denied promotions or treated differently than white coaches. As a woman, I was also troubled by the failure to hold the Washington football team accountable for sexual harassment at its highest levels. I fervently hope that Goodell will do the right thing: conduct a truly independent, comprehensive, and transparent civil rights audit. In doing so, he can uphold the honor and integrity of the shield and serve as a role model for other executives across the country.