Diversity in Ownership
In addition to diversity vis-a-vis African Americans, the highest levels of the NFL remain dominated by older white men.
Dee Haslam is one of a few women with ownership roles. Not everyone has realized it, but for the past few years, Dee has been taking the more active role in ownership. Since 2018, Browns correspondence has been signed “Dee and Jimmy Haslam,” not “Jimmy and Dee Haslam.” This is so not a coincidence.
The smartest thing JH3 ever did was marry Dee, who is actually a genius at organization building. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that she is simply Jimmy’s wife. On the contrary, she has several head-spinning accomplishments apart from her relationship with her husband and Pilot Oil.
Her resume includes being the executive producer and chief executive officer of the RIVR Media companies, which was nominated six times for an Emmy for their work on Whale Wars, and twice for their work with the Trading Spaces reality TV program. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, University Hospitals System, and the United Way of Greater Cleveland.
Incidentally, from the very beginning, Dee and Jimmy have supported the players’ right to “respectfully use their earned platform to inspire positive change in our nation and throughout society.” Although at the time they were criticized at a number of levels including the President of the US, the NFL has reversed itself and now supports the position of tolerance.
NFL ownership currently has extensive female representation as owners or co-owners, including Kim Pegula (Bills), Virginia Halas McCaskey (Bears), Janice McNair (Houston), Carol Davis (Raiders), Gayle Benson (Saints), Denise DeBartolo York (49ers), Jody Allen, (Seahawks), Amy Adams Strunk (Titans).
Shahid Khan of the Jaguars is a Pakistani Muslim. He and Kim Pegula (Korean-American) are the only two non-white major owners of NFL teams. Hence although NFL ownership is becoming more diverse with respect to female ownership, ethnic diversity is extremely slow to come about.
If the highest level of authority, namely ownership, is involving more women than ever before, then perhaps it will become more natural to guide women into the front office and coaching positions. Certainly many aspects of running the business involve creating complex legal contracts and handling hundreds of millions of dollars per year. These activities can certainly involve women and ethnic minorities in the future.
Because of the at least partial success of the Rooney Rule, could some version of that rule be used to encourage greater diversity with the ownership groups? Typically in an NFL team, there’s a principal owner, but there are also others who are part-owners, often with just a small percentage of stock. For example, the Haslams were minority owners of the Steelers before purchasing the Browns.
The main opportunity that the NFL has to influence the makeup of an ownership team is at the time of purchase. Perhaps the diversity of the ownership group should be a significant factor in approving the transfer or sale of franchises.
The Browns really have made a concerted effort to accomplish cultural, social, and ethnic diversity in its product on the field as well as in the upper echelons of management. From their creation in 1946, the Browns were the first team in the modern era to allow African Americans to join the team, and in many cases, they thrived.
The NFL has been backward in accepting African American quarterbacks, coaches, and general managers, and though ethnic stats are not official, the Browns have surely been leaders in all three categories.
The Browns are building a new management structure that involves getting the best brains in the world for building an organization, regardless of race, sex, orientation, ethnic identity. There will be pushback, certainly, but the direction for the future is clear.