NFL hires Black general managers back-to-back, but diversity in other positions of power still ‘a disgrace'

Tyler Dragon
USA TODAY Sports+

Many scoffed at the NFL when they celebrated their first playoff game held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day earlier this month.

At the time, they had only one Black head coach and five Black general managers. The league’s observance seemed disingenuous due to its flagrant lack of diversity.  But the league has since made positive steps in the right direction.  

Two Black general managers were hired in successive days.

Tuesday, the Chicago Bears hired Ryan Poles . Poles, 36, previously spent 13 seasons climbing the ranks with the Kansas City Chiefs. He just finished his first year as the Chiefs' executive director of player personnel. The former offensive tackle at Boston College oversaw college scouting, assisted Kansas City's pro personnel department and prepared for free agency. Last offseason, he was a finalist for the Carolina Panthers' GM position.

Former Cleveland Browns Vice President of Football Operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, left, joins the Minnesota Vikings as general manager.

And Wednesday, the Minnesota Vikings tabbed Cleveland Browns executive Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their new general manager. Adofo-Mensah, 40, served as Cleveland’s vice president of football operations the past two seasons. Adofo-Mensah played basketball at Princeton and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. He also completed a master’s in economics from Stanford. He worked on Wall Street before starting his NFL career with the 49ers as their manager of football research and development in 2013.

Why is this important?

Poles is the first Black GM in the Bears’ 101-year history.

Adofo-Mensah is the first Black GM in the Vikings’ 61-year history; the late Dennis Green was Minnesota’s de facto general manager for two years.

"In the moment, I can't really think of how momentous things are," Adofo-Mensah said during an interview for Vikings.com. "Then when you look at your phone … and you see some of these young scouts or young people I've crossed paths with, just saying 'it's incredibly inspirational to see you — that looks like you, that has a name like you — get to that position, me seeing it in you means that I can do it.'

"I've always gotten that belief from my mom. My mom has always told that there's nothing we couldn't do as long as we put hard work first. And so, I've always gotten that in my own life, but being able to provide that for other people is incredible."

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There are now seven Black general managers currently in the NFL. And three of them reside in the NFC North: Poles, Adofo-Mensah and Brad Holmes, hired by the Detroit Lions last year.

Still, NFL owners are predominantly white. There are just two minority owners in the league: Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, who is Pakistani-American, and Kim Pegula, who is Asian-American and co-owns the Buffalo Bills. 

It will be a sign of true progress when the NFL has a Black owner.

Former NFL player Warren Moon, who is the only Black quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, told USA TODAY Sports+ the NFL needs more Blacks in positions of power to affect real change.

"Once they are in positions of power, they have the authority to hire a coach," Moon said. "The ultimate power is ownership. Somehow, we need more Blacks in ownership. That’s the ultimate, but we are a ways away on that. Especially when it comes to money and being let into the party. Even if you have the money, those owners still have to approve you as part of their group."

Moon is right. Many Blacks around the NFL believe the league is still a ways away from Black ownership, but the recent general manager hires are encouraging. 

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General managers have hiring power. And more minority employers typically opens doors for other minority candidates, which is sorely needed in the NFL.

At the time of this column, there is still only one Black NFL head coach — in a league where 70% of its players are Black. It’s an appalling statistic.  

One of the first responsibilities for Poles and Adofo-Mensah is to fill their respective openings at head coach. When Poles and Adofo-Mensah were hired, there were nine total head coaching vacancies. The Bears are expected to hire Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and the Broncos are set to hire Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett — neither are minority candidates — for those positions, which trims the open head-coaching jobs to seven. 

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Though Poles and Adofo-Mensah bring additional diversity at the general manager level, advocating for more diversity for all positions of power is still necessary.

Adofo-Mensah said that starts with "growing your base of people at the younger level and giving opportunities and looking at and appreciating different points of view and perspectives."

"The NFL has a good solid number of Black GMs, but it should continue to rise," Moon said. "The NFL head coaching number is a disgrace. Something definitely needs to be done in the head coaching ranks.

"I’m hoping out of the nine jobs that are available right now, Blacks can be hired for at least four or five of them."

Follow USA TODAY Sports+ NFL Insider Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.