Taking its cue from the Dodgers' fiasco with Al Campanis last December, the National Football League (NFL) has devised a strategy for upgrading the status of blacks within its ranks. The new plan, expected to be announced sometime before the NFL's Sept. 13 season kickoff, is intended to bring up more members of minority groups through the organization, with increased opportunities for training and administrative input.
Minority hiring advocates moved into action last December after Al Campanis, then vice-president of the Los Angeles Dodgers, made a highly controversial statement on network television. Mr. Campanis seemed to imply that blacks might not have the innate ability to manage in major league baseball. Although he later apologized for that statement, he lost his job.
In preparation for the coming season NFL teams have hired seven black assistant coaches, two black public relations directors and members of minorities for other jobs.
For several years now, the NFL has sponsored a special training program for coaches of black college teams. More recently the league established coaching fellowships which enable minority members to work with NFL teams during the season. The commissioner's office has also hired additional minority personnel.
``We've been working at this a long time,'' says Roger Goodell, a spokesman for NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle's office. ``We feel we've made progress. We know there's a need for further progress.''
The fact remains that there are no black coaches in football or managers in baseball. Basketball is still the only professional sport with black head coaches.
``Every team has black and Hispanic players,'' says Benjamin Hooks, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). However, no big league baseball team has a black manager.
``Only a few teams have a minority coach, says Mr. Hooks. ``A front-office black or Hispanic is rare.''
In July the NAACP negotiated agreements with baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and David Stern, commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). These agreements are aimed at bringing more blacks and Hispanics into administrative positions in those organizations.
Mr. Ueberroth announced his goal of equal opportunity in all phases and levels of baseball when he became commissioner nearly 20 months ago. He says he has advised major league teams to hire the best available person, regardless of race.
Ueberroth has engaged the firm of Alexander & Hill to develop an affirmative-action plan for baseball. The commissioner has also hired sports sociologist Harry Edwards as his special assistant to analyze trends in professional sports minority hiring practices of the past 10 years. Both Mr. Alexander and Dr. Edwards are black.
Edwards will also head a group that will develop a pool of blacks and Hispanics qualified for managerial or front-office positions.
NBA commissioner Stern says the board of governors has authorized him to survey the affirmative-action policies of all 23 teams. He called the NBA a pioneer in terms of minority employment, with its two general managers, four coaches, and other team executives who are members of minority groups. But, he added, ``We can do a better job of recruiting on a lower and middle level of team management.''
Hooks points out that ``basketball has a much better record in the hiring of blacks than either baseball or football....'' Among the major US sports (baseball, football and basketball), professional basketball has the highest percentage of minority members in its leagues.
The NAACP has developed a ``sports strategy'' program aimed at bringing about further change. It features a multiracial group, the NAACP Sports Advisory Committee, comprised of well-known athletes and sports personalities. They advise the organization on ways to coordinate its goals with the sports world and also evaluate and monitor the efforts.
A network based on local NAACP branches has been established across the nation to monitor and consult with major league franchises. So far, they have met with more than 20 baseball clubs, 15 basketball teams, and 12 football teams.
``We can't expect instant progress,'' says Hooks, ``but we expect to make gains.''