(Excerpts originally published on NFL.com)
It was at the site of the HBCU Week and college fair in Wilmington, Delaware, where the spotlight shines on our nation’s excellent Historically Black Colleges and Universities each fall.
Black excellence is all around me.
It was the perfect backdrop for Ashley Christopher, CEO of the HBCU Week Foundation, to boldly say: “We want this to be huge. As big as the Super Bowl.” Experiencing what her organization had accomplished in its first years — the generational impact it was beginning to make — we were firmly aligned.
The NFL was all in. We committed to partnering with the foundation, providing high school students with $10,000 scholarships to attend the HBCU of their choice.
Why? Because the National Football League has a responsibility to the Black community.
Despite the work that still must be done to have more Black representation at the head coach level, the league does have a platform to effect change for players and others within the spectrum of competitive athletics.
We’ve ramped up those efforts over the past decade. Since 2016, more than 4,000 students have participated in the NFL Football Operations department’s partnership initiatives with HBCUs.
These include networking programs with HBCU students and football executives, resume-building experiences, a competition highlighting Black brainpower, and the HBCU Week Foundation scholarship program.
While the cost for these HBCU initiatives is about $3.5 million in donations and expenses, the return is immeasurable.
Working-age Black people also gain access to skills that lead to career mobility through the NFL’s nonprofit partners. Per Scholas is one example. Founded in the South Bronx, the organization provides free training to individuals often excluded from tech careers. The NFL initially committed to enrolling 180 people – in less than two years, that number has jumped to more than 6,000. We know this investment is making a difference. Data shows 80% of Pro Scholas graduates find full-time employment within a year.
Uplifting Black-owned businesses
The league has allocated $125 million toward closing the wealth-equity gap in the past year by partnering with Black-owned companies like Ariel Investments, CityFirst/Broadway Bank, Cover Communications, and Fearless Technology. Most recently, the league announced a partnership with Contract with Black America Institute, expanding our commitment to economic equality.
Our goal is simple: to create value for Black businesses and promote sustainable economic growth in communities that have historically been left behind while others prosper.
Supporting Civic Engagement
Voting is more challenging in Black communities for a number of reasons. That’s why NFL Votes focuses on voter education, registration, and activation. Our 32 clubs make their stadiums across the country available for election-related events. Black voices are being heard more clearly as a result.
Championing Social Justice
Then there’s Inspire Change, the NFL’s weapon against racial and social injustice, which partners with the independent Players Coalition. Together, we pledged to provide $250 million in grants for organizations focused on education, economic advancement, and criminal justice reform.
We’ve already exceeded that goal. Several years ahead of schedule.
The NFL extended the Inspire Change partnership in January 2023 to include 650 local nonprofits and 40-plus national grant partners. The joint initiative supports organizations like the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and others committed to tearing down barriers to opportunity.
Here’s a great example. At this year’s Super Bowl, we used our global stage to raise awareness that not all kids or communities have equal access to the resources they need to succeed. The event, hosted by Inspire Change, attracted NFL legends, BIPOC organizations and many others to help donate computers to Arizona families in need.
Inspire Change and its partners also brought attention to Café Momentum, a Dallas restaurant with an internship program for young people affected by the juvenile justice system. This was an example of how one small idea can lead to big strides, like reducing recidivism and increasing high school graduation rates.
We talked to members of the Black community in Phoenix at the NFL Social Justice Town Hall. It was a vulnerable, yet necessary conversation needed to heal any remaining disconnects and send a message that the league is engaged and listening.
The Players Coalition also hosted a youth literacy assembly for students in the Las Vegas community during Pro Bowl week. NFL players, past and present, were on hand to celebrate young scholars and show their support.
The Commissioner’s office, his leadership team, and the Players Coalition have worked to elevate the Black community at all levels. Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins, and their brethren have made measurable gains: winning nearly 30 policy battles and giving out more than $40 million to help kids in under-resourced schools connect to the internet.
Let me be clear: Representation matters. We need more Black head coaches in the NFL – period. Black boys and girls need to see people who look like them at every level in football. Black professionals in football will need to be assured that they’ll receive an equal opportunity to be promoted.
The NFL is filling a pipeline of diverse coaching candidates at all levels. The same approach applies to executive hiring. We launched hiring accelerator programs to position the best candidates in front of club owners and decision-makers when personnel decisions are made.
Ran Carthon, who is Black, participated in the new NFL front-office accelerator in December 2022. One month later, the Tennessee Titans hired Ran as their first-ever Black general manager.
We’ve seen progress in executive hiring and key roles in the coaching ranks. These indicators show that we are on the right track and that even better results are to come.
There is no doubt the NFL’s efforts are building a more fair and just society. The work is not easy and not often applauded. The momentum, however, toward true representation and stronger partnerships in football is strong and growing and will show the world what’s possible.
Troy Vincent is the executive vice president of Football Operations for the National Football League.