The NFL’s Annual Rooney Rule Discussion

Richmond Free Press

As the NFL regular season comes to aclose, a few things are always certain. Fans of twelve lucky teams are rooting for their team to win the Super Bowl, fans of the remaining 20 teams are rooting for the Patriots to lose, and the Monday after sees a plethora of new head coaching openings. This annual tradition has come to be referred to as “Black Monday,” and has produced an increased amount of scrutiny over the years. The scrutiny has largely resulted from the significant divide between the minority player population compared to the minority representation in head coaching positions. The NFL has recognized this, and has adopted and amended the “Rooney Rule,” but many still feel the attempts to comply have been disingenuous and the rule has been largely ineffective.

Now that Black Monday has come and gone following the 2019 NFL season, and all but one coaching job has been filled, discussions of an ineffective Rooney Rule have resurfaced.

Adopted in 2003, the Rooney Rule is an NFL league policy that requires teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching jobs. Since then, the Rooney Rule has been expanded to include general manager jobs. A similar rule requires that a woman be interviewed for every business front-office position that opens in the league.”

To this point, the only minority coach hired after this season is Ron Rivera, who coached the Carolina Panthers. With the Cleveland Browns narrowing their search to Josh McDaniels, Kevin Stefanski, and Brian Daboll, many are concerned that the Rooney Rule is simply seen as a technicality in NFL circles. Regardless, the NFL clearly has an interest in this issue, implementing it as a policy in 2003, and amending the policy as recently as 2018.

The enhancements to strengthen the Rooney Rule include:

1. Clubs must interview at least one diverse candidate from the Career Development Advisory Panel list or a diverse candidate not currently employed by the club;

2. Clubs must continue the best practice recommendation of considering multiple diverse candidates;

3. Clubs must maintain complete records and furnish them to the league upon the Commissioner’s request; and

4. If the final decision-maker is involved in the beginning, he/she must be involved through the conclusion of the process.

The committee also endorsed strong accountability measures in the event clubs fail to comply or seek to evade procedures outlined in the Rooney Rule.

Largely, the decision on hiring coaches comes down to the organization, and sure it is heavily influenced by ownership. This is the root of many complaints: that lack of diversity among ownership leads to lack of diversity among coaches. On the other hand, perhaps these decision makers make decisions based on merit, argue some, who point largely to successful minority coaches like Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh.

Coaching jobs in the NFL are a revolving door, and some, understandably, just want to see more diversity and inclusion. While the Rooney Rule represents an attempt to change a longstanding situation, it has had limited impact so far, and many have written reflection this not so subtle opinion, including this piece from The Washington Post, which offers adverse perspective, placing blame on coaches and coaching trees that currently exist within the system. Perhaps more time and the recent revisions to the Rule will yield results, but some, if not most are speculative of that.

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