Former NFL coach Marvin Lewis compares tabled resolution to Jim Crow law

The NFL still has a long way to go to address the lack of diversity among coaches, many critics say.
Image: Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018.
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018.Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters file

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By Wilson Wong

Former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis took offense to a proposal that would provide draft-pick incentives to NFL teams that hired people of color for head coach or general manager positions. NFL owners were expected to vote on the resolution on Tuesday.

Lewis, who is currently co-defensive coordinator at Arizona State Sun Devils, told The Baltimore Sun that while bringing more minorities into front offices would be a “plus,” the proposal to reward teams with better draft picks in the following year’s draft was “definitely offensive,” Lewis said. “It was like having Jim Crow laws.”

“Draft picks are like gold. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. As a head coach, no one wants to be hired or put in that position," he said.

After a backlash, the proposal was tabled until a later date.

In that same meeting, ownership approved a separate proposal that removed the league’s anti-tampering rule. Assistant coaches will now be allowed to interview for coordinator positions with other teams, which is typically a route to becoming a head coach.

Despite the change, the NFL still has a long way to go to address the lack of diversity among coaches, many critics say. Currently, there are only four head coaches of color and two black general managers in a league composed of about 70 percent African American players.

“Evolution is inevitable,” NFL senior writer Jeffri Chadiha wrote on NFL.com. “The league got this far by relying on innovation. It will take a lot more creativity to determine where it goes from here.”