With this year's NFL season commencing last night, we thought it was fitting to revisit the Rooney Rule as there were many coaching changes during the last off-season. If you'd like to take a look a the full list you can click here

The Rooney Rule

The Rooney Rule requires National Football League teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It is sometimes cited as an example of affirmative action, though there is no quota or preference given to minorities in the hiring of candidates. It was established in 2003. The catalyst for the Rooney Rule was the firing, in 2002, of two African-American head coaches: Tony Dungy, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Dennis Green, by the Minnesota Vikings. It had been Green’s first season with a losing record in ten years as head coach; Dungy became the first coach with a winning record to be fired by the Bucs.In a study released later that year, Mehri and Cochran demonstrated that even though black head coaches won a higher percentage of games, they were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired than their white counterparts. Albeit the NFL has made some imperfect progess, college football is an entirely different story.

Samuel G. Freeman wrote in the New Yorker

The power of alumni, boosters, and what we might delicately call regional culture has denied opportunity for blacks to become head coaches or athletic directors. In some recent years, the hundred and twenty-five or so teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision have produced fewer African-American head coaches than the thirty-two teams of the N.F.L. (Take, for instance, the 2007 season: six in the N.F.L. and five in the F.B.S.)

Even as the percentage of black head coaches in the F.B.S. has crept up to 9.6 per cent, it remains below the N.F.L. number, which has ranged in recent years from thirteen to twenty-five per cent. Of F.B.S. players last season, 55.4 per cent were African-American. Realistically, if sadly, hardly anyone expects a comparable figure for head coaches any time soon.

Modifying the Rooney Rule 

The Fritz Pollard Alliance  serves with the NFL to oversee compliance of the Rooney Rule. The Fritz Pollard Alliance promotes candidate talent development for coaching, front office executives and scouting staff throughout the NFL through advocating the hiring and promotion of minority candidates in NFL team staff hierarchy through public education and communication with team and league ownership and management. While there has been some progess in the NFL they FBS and NCAA is lagging behind. It’s past time for college football to enact its own Rooney Rule. While it endorses the general idea of diversity, the NCAA. has never backed up its rhetoric with a formal system that guarantees consideration for minority candidates.

The NFL should modify the Rooney Rule to require NFL teams to interview a minority candidate outside their respective organizations, and extending the rule to include interviews for to include all coaching personnel and front office personnel. The impact of the Rooney Rule, like many things in sports, has been implented in other companies like Facebook and Pinterest. The NFL and the NCAA should implement a modified Rooney Rule and not stop pushing for diversity until the front office and the coaching staff looks like the sideline.  

Enforcing the Rooney Rule

Jason Reid of the Washington Post noted, "An honor code is supposed to exist among the commissioner's office, the Fritz Pollard Alliance and teams. The expectation is that minority candidates will receive legitimate consideration. Taking people at their word, though, has not always worked." One suggestion would be to have the teams transcribe their interviews and make them available to the Commisioner's Office and the Fritz Pollard Alliance who could them judge for themselves what occurred. Rather than the current process of the Fritz Pollard Alliance requesting the Commisioner to investigate and if necessary fine an offending team. He also wrote,

Minorities who have been granted interviews likely are reluctant to criticize teams, even if they had bad experiences, for fear of being denied future opportunities. Why not put it all on paper to be reviewed by the appropriate people?

No that the owners are losing confidence in Commissioner Roger Goddell due to his mishandling of Deflatgate, he lacks the support neccessary to fine teams violating the Rooney Rule for fear the owners might vote to eliminate the rule.There are long-standing societal factors that have contributed to minorities being historically underrepresented in decision-making roles, and change usually occurs slowly. But some forward-thinking people took a significant step in pushing for creation of the Rooney Rule. Now it's time to give it more teeth.


Parts of this article were taken from Samuel G. Freedman - What Work Remains for the Rooney Rule and Jason Reid - NFL's Rooney Rule should be strengthened.

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