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Where the Rooney Rule falls short

Despite being enacted with good intentions by the NFL, the Rooney Rule has failed to work.

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

At his press conference introducing new Jaguars HC Doug Pederson, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan was asked about the lack of diversity among head coaches in the NFL. Khan mentioned a letter Tony Dungy wrote to the NFL on coaching diversity, and said that “a lot” needs to be done. “There’s a lot of work to do,” Khan said. “I wish there was a quick fix.”

Khan is the only majority owner in the NFL who isn’t white and has spoken about issues of race and diversity before, as recent as las year. This comes in response to a lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins HC Brian Flores against the NFL, accusing the NFL of racism in its’ hiring practice.

In the lawsuit, Flores addressed the Rooney Rule, a practice implemented in the NFL in 2003 that orders teams that are looking for head coaches to interview at least one minority candidate. Flores said in his lawsuit that it’s clear the Rooney Rule is not working, and the numbers back up that claim. There’s only one Black head coach in the NFL, and it doesn’t look like another one is getting hired in this coaching cycle. There are only four Black offensive coordinators, and only three Black QB Coaches, despite Black players making up 70% of the league and the number of Black QBs rising each year.

The Rooney Rule, on the surface, should be a good rule, despite the notion of needing a rule just to interview minority coaches is questionable in itself. It SHOULD create more opportunities for Black coaches. However, the Rooney Rule falls short and is ineffective because it gives white people, namely white owners, the benefit of the doubt. What I mean by that is, the Rooney Rule assumes that white owners and GMs will treat the interview process with their Black head coaching candidates the same way they treat white candidates, and as we’ve seen in the lawsuit filed by Brian Flores, that’s not exactly the case. Flores says in his lawsuit that he has been the victim of multiple sham interviews, providing details of one of these experiences with the Denver Broncos in which Broncos brass showed up “disheveled” and an hour late to the interview. The Rooney Rule asks white owners to be fair in their interviews of Black head coaches, when some might already have their candidate picked out already, and just want to fill a quota. Such as what Flores says happened with the Giants.

There’s also no real way to enforce the Rooney Rule, which strengthens the ability of the owners to do literally whatever they want. In 2003, Lions GM Matt Millen was fined $200,000 for not interviewing any minority candidates when he hired Steve Mariucci. For comparison, the Saints Bountygate scandal resulted in the Saints being fined $500,000 and losing second round draft picks in 2012 and 2013. There’s no real way to enforce that Black candidates get interviewed and treated fairly by white owners, and that in itself makes it easier for the owners to simply do what they want, knowing the consequences aren’t very consequential at all.

So, what can be done? How do we fix the Rooney Rule? What must change? In terms of practical solutions, a way that the NFL can fix or improve the Rooney Rule is through collaborating with groups such as the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches to give a list of minority candidates for owners to interview. In addition, the NFL could mandate that outside search firms help with the coach and GM hiring process for NFL teams, to bring different, more diverse voices into the room. However, the biggest answer to all of those questions is simple: white people. White people must become more comfortable with hiring people that don’t look like them. We can talk about getting rid of the Rooney until we’re all blue in the face but the main reason we’re at this point is racism and internal biases in the front offices and among ownership, and we’ll continue to be at that point until those people change.