Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff on Thursday received the Daniel M. Rooney Lifetime Achievement Award from the Fritz Pollard Alliance (FPA) "for his dedication and long-term meritorious history to improve the workplace surrounding the game of football."
Presented the award – regarded as the highest by the FPA – at the Courtyard Marriott Phoenix as part of the 18th annual Johnnie L. Cochran Salute to Excellence Awards, Demoff expressed gratitude for the recognition, but also emphasized that there was still work to be done when it comes to growing and developing a pipeline of diverse candidates within the organization and the NFL.
Demoff said the Rams have always been about building bridges and navigating barriers, pointing back to Kenny Washington breaking the NFL's color barrier, James "Shack" Harris being the first African American quarterback to start and win a playoff game, the franchise drafting the first openly gay player in Michael Sam and bringing on the first male cheerleaders for the cheerleading unit.
"To have the privilege to work at the Rams is to be focused on breaking barriers, and to make sure that everybody is represented in the room in the organization," Demoff said in his acceptance speech.
That legacy of the franchise, as well as Demoff's own background, are key drivers in his own mission create a more diverse organization and league overall.
"The award is special to me, because quite frankly, I'm one of the reasons the Fritz Pollard Alliance exists," Demoff said. "I stand up here, having broken into the NFL solely based on my last name and opportunities that others gave to me – without having been earned, but rather just because my father worked in the game. And from every moment forward, I've known to change this game for the better. That the next recipients, the next leaders of organizations, can't be based on their last name or who they knew, but based on those who have worked hard and are deserving to move forward. That's why every moment that we spend is about creating access, about growing our world."
That accessibility and growth is important, Demoff said, because "if we want to be America's game, our fields, our sidelines and our organizations have to look like America" and show the diversity that exists and helps everyone move forward.
Demoff was encouraged by the progress shown with the last five NFL team presidents hired being people of color, citing the New York Times article written by Emmanuel Morgan on Wednesday. However, Demoff also pointed out that not one of them came from NFL organizations, but rather from outside of the league's teams and the league office.
"That shows that the pipeline of candidates within the NFL is not where it needs to be," Demoff said. "That we need to grow that, that we need to figure out how to build those pipelines, so that when we look for the next great group of diverse candidates, we are looking inside our buildings and promoting those who deserve to be promoted."
Last year, Demoff, NFL Network Chief National Reporter Steve Wyche and HBCU Battle of the Brains Founder and Executive Director Gregory Gibson Jr. founded the inaugural Black Sports Business Symposium, with ESPN as its lead sponsor. Demoff said leaving the event, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content Jimmy Pitaro told him it was the most impactful event ESPN has ever done, with nearly 24 people hired out of it – illustrating how critical it is for everyone to figure out what they can do to continue to grow and develop that next generation and group of leaders who will take the NFL and all sports to the next level.
Dialogue, especially within one's own organization, is just as crucial to that process. It might be messy, but messy is what will lead to more progress.
"It is paradoxical, to stand up here and to earn a lifetime achievement award, when so much needs to be done, not only within the league, but even within our own club," Demoff said. "It's hard work. It's not just about diversity. To really give people in your organization a voice, it can be messy. People at my table, many of our great employees, it is not perfect, even within our organization. But when you bring in diverse voices – people of different backgrounds, races, religion – you get messy discussions, but you get progress, you get to the right answers.
"As leaders, it can be really easy to focus on consensus and getting people who will agree and people who will look like us and be like us, but it can be really rewarding to build a messy coalition that pushes you every day to better and to inspire those around you."