CANTON, OHIO – A gift from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to former National Football League Commissioner PAUL TAGLIABUE celebrating his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be used to advance a cause important to him: diversity throughout the sport.
The James Harris-Doug Williams Fellowship, which provides a post-graduate opportunity at the Pro Football Hall of Fame to a recent college graduate from an accredited Historically Black College and University (HBCU), will be endowed for two years in Tagliabue’s honor.
James Harris-Doug Williams Fellows perform a variety of tasks at the Pro Football Hall of Fame by completing rotations through various departments. They work on a multitude of projects, tasks and initiatives with the goal of advancing their careers in the sport of professional football.
Increased career advancement and diversity in football were efforts Tagliabue promoted. He was NFL commissioner when the League adopted the “Rooney Rule.” Named for former Pittsburgh Steelers owned and Hall of Famer DAN ROONEY, the rule requires teams to interview at least one racial minority when hiring a head coach.
Speaking to media recently, Tagliabue said more work in the area of racial equality across hiring in pro football remains to be accomplished.
“The Rooney Rule addressed issues at the coaching level. But those issues go beyond issues for coaches,” he said. “I had the good fortune of taking over as commissioner the same year ART SHELL became the first Black head coach in the League since the 1920s. Art set a standard that others like Dennis Green and TONY DUNGY followed.
“We didn’t achieve enough progress on that issue for coaching, and I think the same can be said about non-coaching positions in the front office and other areas – not just for ethnic or racial minorities but for women as well.”
Tagliabue sees the James Harris-Doug Williams Fellowship as a way to close those gaps.
Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, called it “impossible to measure what Paul Tagliabue has
meant to me and our entire Atlanta Falcons family.”
“From the very first steps of buying the team right up until today, Commissioner Tagliabue has been a cherished friend, mentor and confidant, and I know he was the same to the Smith family during their stewardship of the Falcons,” Blank said. “As commissioner, his forward-thinking and prudent decision- making raised our league to new heights, and then he carefully and successfully navigated the sometimes bumpy road that growth naturally encounters.
“His impact on the game during his tenure as commissioner is immeasurable. Simply put, the NFL wouldn’t be what it is today without him. On behalf of everyone with the Atlanta Falcons, we congratulate him on the much-deserved enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” he said.
“In recognition of Paul Tagliabue’s induction, my family and the Atlanta Falcons are proud to support the very important efforts of Paul and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the creation of a physical location for the Black College Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Equally important to its creation is the formation of the James Harris-Doug Williams Fellowship and its ability to provide an HBCU graduate a unique opportunity for professional development and career advancement, which we are proud to support.”
Akil Blount, son of Hall of Famer MEL BLOUNT, was the first James Harris-Doug Williams fellow at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He now is an employee of the Marketing Team at the Hall and assists in screening new Fellowship applications.
“The James Harris Doug Williams Fellowship is an opportunity of a lifetime for HBCU graduates transitioning out of school into the world of sports,” said Blount, a graduate of Florida A&M University. “The yearlong experience has provided well-rounded opportunities to learn and grow. It is through the great support of many, such as Mr. Tagliabue and Mr. Blank, who give back and help others excel, that makes this possible.”
Pat Lindesmith, Chief Partnership Officer & Senior Vice President of Gold Jacket Relations at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said: “We extend our sincere appreciation to the Arthur M. Blank Foundation for this very generous gift in honor of Paul Tagliabue. The James Harris-Doug Williams Fellowship is a great opportunity for students seeking a career in the sports world.
“We are thankful to the Foundation for allowing us to continue to offer this platform for HBCU graduates to advance.”