When the NFL announced the hiring of Jonathan Beane as its senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer on Aug. 21, team officials around the league couldn’t help but wonder: How much power will Beane truly have?
Beane inherits an NFL that faces a plethora of racial issues. Among them is increasing the diversity among the NFL’s head coaching staff. There are just three black NFL coaches—and one Latino coach in Washington’s Ron Rivera—despite the player base being approximately 70% black.
But Beane’s biggest challenge will be helping the NFL navigate one of the most complex eras in its history. The death of George Floyd transformed the racial attitude of the league almost overnight. The NFL, which in 2016 discouraged its players from following the lead of quarterback Colin Kaepernick by taking a knee during the national anthem, now backs the peaceful protests.
Commissioner Roger Goodell uttered the phrase “Black Lives Matters” on a video following Floyd’s death on May 25, even publicly admitting the league’s stance against kneeling was wrong. Goodell on Monday said he wishes “we had listened earlier” to Kaepernick’s cause and concerns, while appearing on the program Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man.
The NFL said Beane will “spearhead the league’s overarching diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, and will collaborate with senior leadership to drive actionable change throughout the league.”
Beane, who will begin with the league on Sept. 8, brings with him a lengthy background of pushing workplace diversity. He was the senior vice president of global diversity and inclusion for 21st Century Fox, the head of global diversity and inclusion for Novartis Oncology and the executive director of diversity and corporate social responsibility at Time Warner. He’s currently a member of the board of directors at GLAAD.
“During this critical period in our country’s history, I cannot think of a more perfect time to join an iconic organization like the NFL,” Beane said in a statement. “The opportunity to serve as the league’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and work closely with league and club executives, ownership and other important stakeholders on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts is an exciting one. This work is where my passion lies.”
“Diversity and inclusion will strengthen our organization and aligns with our values,” Goodell said in a statement. “Jonathan joins the NFL at an important time, and we look forward to his broad expertise and leadership on diversity, equity and inclusion policies and practices for the betterment of our league.”
The concern some team officials privately express, however, is that Beane won’t have enough power to make significant changes, or that his recommendations might be ignored.
Darryl Cobbin, the managing partner for Brand Positioning Doctors, who discusses issues in race and sports, said the hire is significant, but how significant will depend on “the difference between power and perspective.”
“Joseph Siclare, NFL EVP & Chief Financial Officer has power,” said Cobbin. “His decisions significantly impact the NFL. Troy Vincent, EVP of Football Operations has power. His decisions also significantly impact the NFL….
“The question for me is, ‘Will Jonathan Beane…have the power to significantly impact the NFL?” Cobbin said, “Or will he mostly be allowed to offer a perspective that may or may not significantly impact the NFL? I’ll be watching his first 100 days on the job closely.”
The NFL declined to make Beane available for comment before his official start, but the new executive will come in already facing series of questions from all sides—some for himself, but many more for the league.
“Why has it taken the NFL 100 years to hire a senior executive in diversity and inclusion?” said Cobbin. “On Aug. 26, 2016 before a Packers-49ers preseason game, Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the playing of the national anthem, later stating he sat because the country ‘oppresses black people and people of color.’ Why didn’t the NFL hire a senior executive in diversity and inclusion at that time? And finally, why did the NFL, masters of the PR game, make the announcement of Jonathan Beane’s hire on a Friday, typically the worst day of the week in terms [of] media pickup? I’m truly curious about the answers to these questions.”