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  • Writer's pictureShawn Papi

The modern NFL didn’t have a Black head coach until 1989. Here’s his story.

By the time Art Shell became the first Black head coach in modern NFL history, there had already been 18 Black head coaches in the NBA and four Black baseball managers.

In 1989, two months after his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player, Shell took over the head coaching job of the Los Angeles Raiders. He was the NFL’s first Black head coach since the league’s early days in the 1920s, when Fritz Pollard was player-coach for the Hammond (Ind.) Pros. (At the time, the upstart NFL was mostly limited to major and not-so-major Midwestern cities.)

When Shell was fired six years later in 1995, there were two Black head coaches remaining in the NFL — double the number today.

Last month, the number shrank from three to one after two Black coaches were fired, including Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins, who has filed an explosive class-action lawsuit against the NFL and its teams, claiming discrimination when it comes to hiring and retention of Black coaches. The NFL and the teams named in the suit have denied the allegations.

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