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Warrick Dunn says Falcons need more diversity and he expects change - The Athletic


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by Jeff Schultz for The Athletic

 

Warrick Dunn sees a problem. He sees an organization that he has a financial and emotional stake in that is overly white and he sits in partnership meetings for the Falcons where, “I’m the only one in the room of color.” He sees a league where more than 70 percent of the players are African American but too few minorities rise to the influential positions of general manager and coach. He sees NFL team executives hiring friends instead of taking the time to find the best-qualified candidates, regardless of race.

“A lot of this stuff is about relationships,” Dunn said. “People just need to be a little bit open-minded. We just have be more purposeful to get the best person for a job, instead of, ‘Well, I played ball with him,’ or, ‘I worked with him.’”

The Falcons are a good place to start. Dunn played six of his 12 NFL seasons in Atlanta, is a limited partner and continues to run his foundation, including, “Home for the Holidays,” a program that helps provide homes for single-parent families in need.

But he also has found his voice on other matters. In May, he spoke to The Athletic about his increased interest in social justice and his involvement with the Players Coalition, a group of current and former NFL and NBA players and coaches whose mission includes criminal justice reform and police transparency and accountability. Now, he is speaking out about the need for the Falcons to become more diverse as they search for a new general manager and coach.

Dunn told The Athletic he plans to speak to owner Arthur Blank soon about the issue. But, given feedback from within the organization, he would not be surprised if the team hires an African American general manager or head coach. Or possibly both. Dunn gave team president Rich McKay, who is heading the search for both vacancies, a heads up that he was going to speak publicly on the issue.

This isn’t about quotas or political correctness. It would simply be an acknowledgment on the organization’s part that too few qualified minorities have been afforded opportunities in the past. The Falcons, an organization centered in the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement and with a stadium less than two miles from the MLK Center, should be a part of the NFL’s overall change moving forward.

“Definitely in the front office, you want to see more diversity and a mixed group of individuals,” Dunn said. “Obviously, we have African Americans on the (coaching and support) staff, but we want to make sure we address those high priority positions as well and give everybody a fair opportunity. The goal has always been to hire the best candidate. Now it’s just about being more intentional about looking at an African American, someone of color, taking a longer look at them and really understanding the magnitude of the moment and trying to build off that.”

And then: “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a Black GM and a Black head coach, or one or the other. I just think that’s where we’re at. And in the city of Atlanta that would do a lot of good. It’s predominantly an African American city, and a (diverse) fan base. I just think that’s something that would be positive.”

The NFL has come under a lot of criticism for its lack of diversity among teams. There are currently only four minority head coaches (Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Anthony Lynn, Miami’s Brian Flores, Washington’s Ron Rivera) and only two minority general managers (Cleveland’s Andrew Berry, Miami’s Chris Grier). Rivera also currently is in control of personnel decisions in Washington. There are two interim head coaches of color, the Falcons’ Raheem Morris and Houston’s Romeo Crennel. The Athletic’s Mike Sando and Lindsay Jones explored the league’s diversity problem among head coaches in September.

“This is a moment, and they (Falcons) are looking at all of this,” Dunn said. “Rich understands that. Mr. Blank understands that. How can we go out and hire the best individuals, but while putting an emphasis on having more diversity in the front office. I think you’ll see that. I think you’ll see people of color being interviewed, being considered. Don’t be surprised if you start to see some change. And we’re not talking about things flipping overnight. You have to start somewhere and start building on it. We just have to be more intentional about it.”

The Falcons have never had a Black general manager or Black head coach, other interim head coaches in Morris and Emmitt Thomas (2011). The highest-ranking minorities (non-coaches) in football operations are Kevin Winston (vice president, player affairs), Anthony Robinson (director of college scouting) and Stephanie Gutierrez (director, football systems).

Five potential candidates for the general manager vacancy have leaked out, and they’re all Black: Louis Riddick (ESPN analyst, former Washington and Philadelphia executive) Rick Smith (former Texans GM), Reggie McKenzie (former Raiders GM), Brad Holmes (Rams director of college scouting) and Champ Kelly (Bears assistant director of player personnel).

At least the top three executives in the organization below Blank are white: CEO Steve Cannon, McKay and CFO Greg Beadles. A list of executives on the team’s website shows 19 members; only one is Black: Tim Goodly, senior vice president, human resources. However, Brett Jewkes, EVP and communications officer, said the website, soon to be redone, is outdated and needs to be corrected, and the organization takes the blame for any misinformation being out there. Jewkes said the Falcons’ executive leadership team actually has 16 members, of which five are Black: new general counsel Joe Pierce, Goodly, Shannon Joyner (director of marketing and chair diversity, equity and inclusion for Blank’s businesses), Fay Twersky (president, AMB philanthropies) and Nicole Stephens (director, internal communications).

In a statement to The Athletic, Blank said he is doing what he can to address the diversity problems.

“People know my heart and mind on this topic (diversity),” he said. “I know we can do more and we’re proactively working to ensure opportunities at every level are filled on a fair and equitable basis across all of our businesses. As a member of the league’s diversity committee from the start, I’m encouraged that we’ve made some significant progress and by the efforts that are being undertaken in many areas of the game, but there’s no question there is more work to do by everyone.”

Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport and president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, does periodic racial and gender report cards for professional sports leagues. In the October of 2019 RGRC report card for the NFL, Lapchick, who also chairs the sports business management program at Central Florida, graded the league:

• D-plus: Racial hiring of coaches (A-plus for assistant coaches).

• F: Racial hiring of general manager/principle in charge.

• D-plus: Racial hiring of team vice presidents and above.

• F: Gender hiring of team VPs and above.

😧 Hiring of senior administration.

The NFL received an overall grade of “B-minus,” its lowest in 15 years. The overall grade factored in an A-plus for players in a league where more than 70 percent are people of color and an A-minus for hiring in the league office. Lapchick noted in the report that the league has “continued to see lower scores within the leadership of participating clubs. There has been a lack of representation of women and people of color in President/CEO and C-Suite positions. People of color and women are seriously under-represented in significant decision-making positions at the team level.”

Lapchick told The Athletic that he does not grade individual teams but said, “The NFL does not do well in team C suite positions for race or gender,” he said. “It has also not done well in recent years and head-coaching and general manager positions.”

What would be considered an acceptable measure of diversity?

“I believe that NFL organizations should at least reflect the diversity of the U.S. population,” Lapchick said. “That is how we base the grades in the racial and gender report card. We do not base them on the percentage of the players in the league. With leagues like the NFL and the NBA where there are so many Black players, you would hope that they would pay even more serious attention to opportunities for Blacks in leadership positions in the front office.”

Dunn strongly believes change is coming and on a far larger scale than just the Falcons.

“If we continue to focus on the negative, we never move forward,” he said. “In this day and age, the opportunity is going to come because this has been a national conversation, not just the Atlanta Falcons or the National Football League, about race and equality. It’s about opportunity. We can continue to complain about it or we can put ourselves in position to show people, ‘I am qualified. Give me an opportunity and I’ll show you what I can do.’ And not just African Americans. All people of color.”

Dunn played for a Black head coach with Tampa Bay, Tony Dungy, whose coaching tree included future coaches and coordinators Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Jim Caldwell, Mike Tomlin and Leslie Frazier.

“Would it be cool to have a Black GM, a Black head coach? Yes,” Dunn said. “I think the players would gravitate toward that.

“I feel confident we are going to go through a strenuous process, looking at the candidates and doing all we can do look at all races. But I do feel confident we could have a black GM, a Black head coach.”

The NFL has a problem. Atlanta would be a good place to start the fix.

 

 

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13 minutes ago, Falcons Fan MVP said:

I'm not too impressed with the potential black GM's available. Rick Smith or Tony Dungy maybe. Ed Dodds is probably my favorite GM. I don't think Riddick is the right guy.

My 3 favorite head coaching candidates are all black, Bienemy, Raheem and I guess Saleh. 

 

Saleh isn't black just fyi heh

 

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Why does everyone care about race instead of football.. I dont want the team pressured into hiring a someone because of their skin color. I want them to hire someone because they truly believe that they will win this town a 🏆. I'm sick of this franchise letting this city down. I don't know who the best GM or coach would be but I really hope Arthur gets it right this time. 

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I agree.  Even taking race, ethnicity, sex out of the conversation for a moment, a room full of decision makers who all have the same perspective always yields a slower path to success.  It's not a political conversation and only borderline a social conversation.  Put the most talented people in the room and let them loose to do their best work.  Now when you bring back race, ethnicity, sex in place realize that not every player and especially not every fan is the same.  The NFL is a big business and even the teams are sizeable entities, privately held, mostly. 

I can see that the viewership has taken a minor drop, youth football has dropped stepwise for many years, obviously attendance is nearly zero in 2020.  Diversification of the workplace is a very good economic direction, not just the right thing to do. 

Can't argue that there have been some really bad hiring trends around here.

Hire the best people and get the best results more than half the time.

Edited by Killing Floor
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11 minutes ago, KamiKazee27 said:

Why does everyone care about race instead of football.. I dont want the team pressured into hiring a someone because of their skin color. I want them to hire someone because they truly believe that they will win this town a 🏆. I'm sick of this franchise letting this city down. I don't know who the best GM or coach would be but I really hope Arthur gets it right this time. 

Well...think of it this way, has the organization REALLY done what you’re saying you want? It’s quite possible/likely that the approach has been things like character, likability, etc. over ability alone. Look at the last 2 head coaches. 

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12 minutes ago, KamiKazee27 said:

Why does everyone care about race instead of football.. I dont want the team pressured into hiring a someone because of their skin color. I want them to hire someone because they truly believe that they will win this town a 🏆. I'm sick of this franchise letting this city down. I don't know who the best GM or coach would be but I really hope Arthur gets it right this time. 

Because this country has an ugly history of looking at race above ability and stereotypes and biases exist in every aspect of American life.  Acknowledging there is a problem is a 1st  step in making an issue better so everyone involved feels it's a fair and honest playing field. 

Edited by insight
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24 minutes ago, youngbloodz said:

Nepotism in big business isn’t anything new but we shouldn’t stand for it either. That’s the problem with the nfl. Adam Gase getting another head coaching job proves that 

Even more than nepotism, I saw the "good ol' boy" network working in corporate America.  There were some real duds that got hired multiple times because someone put in the word.  I would not be surprised at all to discover that a similar network is in play in the NFL.

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1 minute ago, NaGaBoy said:

Even more than nepotism, I saw the "good ol' boy" network working in corporate America.  There were some real duds that got hired multiple times because someone put in the word.  I would not be surprised at all to discover that a similar network is in play in the NFL.

I’m sure it is because I can’t see how Gase got hired after the ish he pulled in Miami. And now look at the Jets

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I don’t have a problem with this and what he said. No one should be fearful of hiring or bringing someone in. I’ve been in situations where I was the only minority in a group and even though it was professional, it was not fun. My co-workers experienced a level of comfort that I didn’t, so yes it should be more diverse to avoid that type of situation as much as possible but at the same time I wouldn’t want that to be the only component that factors into why we hire somebody. I feel like if someone is of high character they should factor into the recruiting process. I would actually trust someone like Warrick Dunn to bring people on board. 

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11 minutes ago, NaGaBoy said:

Even more than nepotism, I saw the "good ol' boy" network working in corporate America.  There were some real duds that got hired multiple times because someone put in the word.  I would not be surprised at all to discover that a similar network is in play in the NFL.

I’m in a situation like that at my company now. Hire the people and promote the people best for the job to experience the most growth. But the CEO will never hire people on the same level of intellect or better. Ego, which I know a bunch of it is in the Falcons organization, has kept a lot of business from reaching their true potential.

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51 minutes ago, Falcons Fan MVP said:

I'm not too impressed with the potential black GM's available. Rick Smith or Tony Dungy maybe. Ed Dodds is probably my favorite GM. I don't think Riddick is the right guy.

My 3 favorite head coaching candidates are all black, Bienemy, Raheem and I guess Saleh. 

 

 

Edited by red falcon
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