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New GM hires highlight NFL's progress towards more diversity in top positions

Last year NFL teams hired 14 men of color for top positions, accounting for 34% of available jobs. That number is higher than previous seasons.

EAGAN, Minn. — There have been a lot of big headlines surrounding the Minnesota Vikings lately, including the hiring of their next general manager.

On Wednesday, team officials confirmed they hired Cleveland Browns VP of Player Personnel Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

Adofo-Mensah was one of four men of color who interviewed for the general manager position.

One of the other candidates for the position, former Kansas City Chief Executive Director of Player Personnel Ryan Poles has also landed a general manager position with the Chicago Bears.

The two hires highlight a shift in the NFL towards more diversity in top positions.

"I think it makes a huge impact,” University of St. Thomas Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ambassador Dr. Nakeisha Lewis says.

Dr. Lewis says many organizations have talked the talk for years when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but many haven't always walked the walk.

She says the NFL is starting to take action and owners are now taking meaningful steps towards creating a more inclusive environment for top executives and coaches.

"Folks are expecting that work to be done. It's no longer that we can make statements, but people are looking for receipts and examples of how that is changing in your systems,” Dr. Lewis says.

RELATED: Reports: Vikings hire Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as new general manager

According to the NFL's Diversity Inclusion Report, during last year’s big hiring season, the NFL hired 41 head coaches, coordinators and general managers. Of those hires, 14 of them were men of color, around 34%.

Historically that number had been fluctuating between 5-20% over the entire history of the league.

And besides the top level positions, there are currently 110 position coaches of color who could soon interview for coordinator or head coaching positions in the coming years.

"They’re creating pathways for leadership and ensuring that there's a clear way to get there,” Dr. Lewis says.

The NFL's first big push to include more diversity in the league came in 2003 with the adoption of the Rooney Rule.

It requires all NFL teams with an open head coaching position to interview at least one non-white candidate for the job.

In 2009, the rule was expanded to include general manager and other top front-office positions, requiring teams to interview a minimum of two non-white candidates.

In 2020, the NFL added rewards for teams who develop minority talent.

If a team mentors and develops a minority coach or executive, and they later get a promotion with a different team, the first team would earn two third round draft picks in back to back years.

RELATED: Viking's Tackle Brian O'Neill named for NFL Pro Bowl

So, in this latest case, the Cleveland Browns will likely earn those picks once Adofo-Mensah officially joins the Vikings.

"It’s a big change,” Star Tribune Vikings beat writer Ben Goessling says.

“It is now advantageous for teams to have this happen.”

Goessling says those draft picks are huge for NFL teams, and it's huge for young talented coaches and executives who can now get a shot at these jobs.

"They’re sort of like, let's change the process enough that people -- that don't have necessarily this legacy network of connections, but have a lot of good ideas -- can get a chance to get in front of owners and say ‘This is how I would do the job if you give me a chance to do it,’" Goessling says.

Because up until now, Goessling says, the NFL was a tight-knit group where only insiders and close friends got to interview for the top jobs.

Now, he says we're seeing younger men, men of color, and women, with big ideas and talent, who are also getting a fair shot.

"There is value in having people in seats of actual power that are going to come with a different perspective because that is going to, I think, filter through the rest of the organization,” Goessling says.

Last year the NFL also expanded the Rooney Rule with several additional changes. The most noteworthy change involves more opportunities for women. If an NFL team has an opening for a top-level executive position, they must interview at least one woman for the job.

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