Jonathan Beane outside with some trees.

Jonathan Beane: Remaking the NFL’s game plan

In many respects, points out Jonathan S. Beane ’98, the National Football League is like any other business, with a management team marketing a product and growing the brand. But it’s also a uniquely American institution – with 180 million passionate football fans, its customers are more than half the nation.

Because of that, he says, “a lot is expected of the league. The level of scrutiny is something you’ll never see anywhere else.”

Beane is the league’s newly hired senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer and the first to hold that position. He is responsible for advancing a diverse and welcoming internal and public-facing culture.

“We’re simply a microcosm of American society,” says Beane, who has worked full time in this space since 2007, in industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals and media. “The same challenges American society has, we’re grappling with ourselves. When it comes to social justice, when it comes to equality, when it comes to welcoming expression, we want to lead. We also feel strongly that people, our employees, should have the right to express themselves. We stand for social justice.”

The same challenges American society has, we’re grappling with ourselves. when it comes to social justice, when it comes to equality, when it comes to welcoming expression, we want to lead.

As a member of the NFL’s senior leadership team, Beane works with both the league’s own staff – around 1,300 full-time employees, and a large group of part-time, seasonal and contract workers – and the 32 teams, each of which is creating its own diversity action plan. It’s an unusual organizational structure, and he says the teams reflect the personality and priorities of their owners. “The owners set the tone in terms of the culture of the club,” he says. “My job is to make sure they’re aligned with our overall D&I strategy, and work with them to make sure they have the best plan forward based on where they are now.”

Sometimes diversity is defined narrowly through the lens of race, but Beane says the NFL expects a broader focus, including diversity around gender, sexual orientation, veteran status and generations. “We want to make sure people understand that we are welcoming to all communities,” he says. “We’re honored to have them as fans and we want to create deeper engagement with them.”

As an example, he points to the League’s recent public service announcement pledging support for any NFL player who might choose to come out as gay. “Those are the kind of things we want to do – to show not only in words but also in practice that this is who we are,” he says.

Beane – a former player himself - was a wide receiver for two seasons at Dartmouth College. He graduated from UB’s joint J.D./ MBA program in 1998. He says his legal education has prepared him to work toward positive change. “I would not be in this role if it wasn’t for my law degree,” he says. “It allows you to see situations before other people recognize them, and determine whether they’re potentially a red flag or not. It allows you to disrupt and really challenge your organization and make sure you’re taking action both legally and with integrity.

“And it allows you to be more empathetic. You might believe that an issue is black or white – that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer. What the law and the cases tell you is that there’s not always a right or wrong. Sometimes it’s gray, and you have to come up with the optimal solution."