NFL starting to bridge gap of diversity with Madden Tournament

Sixteen finalists flew to Los Angeles to participate in a weeklong “experienceship” with EA and NFL staff including tickets to Super Bowl LVI. (Matthew Ritchie/Medill Reports)

By Jelah Anderson
Medill Reports 

LOS ANGELES — The NFL hosted its second annual Madden NFL 22 x HBCU Tournament with EA during Super Bowl LVI week to celebrate the impact of historically Black colleges and universities, but the lack of diversity among head coaches in the NFL lingers over the league’s head.

Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores is suing the NFL and three teams, alleging discrimination against Black coaches in the hiring process for head coaches and coordinators.   

“Racism and any form of discrimination is contrary to the NFL’s values,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a memo to all 32 NFL teams. “We have made significant efforts to promote diversity and adopted numerous policies and programs which have produced positive change in many areas, however we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches the results have been unacceptable.”

In May 2016, the NFL started one of the programs Goodell referenced: a partnership with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference to enhance the relationship between the league and HBCUs. 

A special conference was held in December 2016 that allowed MEAC and SWAC attendees to learn the business side of the NFL from some of its leaders, similar to what the tournament is doing for these students. 

“I think it’s a start to something that has a lot of potential,” Claflin University President Dr. Dwaun Warmack said. “It can’t be a one-off. It has to be a real investment from the NFL.”

“From a Madden tournament to hiring of African American coaches in the NFL makes a world of difference, so you can’t do a passive Madden tournament for HBCUs and not hire Black coaches,” Warmack said. “We stand in solidarity with African Americans and challenge the NFL to hire more African American-specific coaches.” 

The NFL partnered with EA to connect with four HBCU conferences — the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — to give HBCU students a chance to represent their schools in the competition and gain a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in Los Angeles during the Super Bowl week. 

Two-time tournament champion Eric “ThatGuyDJ” Minor, a senior at Claflin University, was just as successful working the rooms as he was handling the joysticks on Madden.

“I met a lot of high-profile people,” Minor said. “Being able to just get over the nervousness and be able to walk up to them and talk to them and try to get a business card and network is probably my biggest takeaway.”

Natara Holloway, NFL vice president of football strategy and business development, said the tournament is more than a competition for students to win, but also an opportunity to understand the NFL jobs that are behind the scenes.  

“We want to expand the league’s efforts to create inclusive opportunities for the next generation of talent with partners like EA providing not only a chance for students to compete, but also the chance to learn the intricacies of business through practical learning and shadowing experiences,” Holloway said. 

According to The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport, in 2021 almost 71% of the players in the NFL were Black. There are only three active Black head coaches. 

“We know the talent that has come out of HBCUs, we know how many hall of famers have come out of HBCUs, so if they’re good enough to play in the NFL, they’re good enough to coach in the NFL,” Warmack said. “So it is our hope that more African Americans be head coaches.”

Jelah Anderson is a sports reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @jelahmichelle