What the NFL’s Rooney Rule Reveals About Race in America
The National Football League is one of the most powerful sports entities on the planet. Even in a season marred by the pandemic, the average value of each team increased 14% to $3.5 billion last year. Yet, the NFL is not without its fair share of controversy.
The league has been called into question for its hiring practices many times, and last season was no exception. When Brian Flores got fired by the Miami Dolphins after consecutive winning seasons, the head coach filed a class-action lawsuit. The debate over the implementation of the Rooney Rule is once again in the headlines.
Continue reading to learn more about this ongoing story of racism in sports and the Rooney Rule’s effectiveness.
What is the Rooney Rule?
The late Dan Rooney was chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers when he introduced a policy to address workplace discrimination around the league. The Rooney Rule became mandated in 2003 to promote better opportunities for leadership roles among minorities. The original concept meant to open more coaching jobs in a grossly under-represented NFL. The rule indicated that teams must interview at least one person from a diverse background for a coaching position.
In 2009, the Rooney Rule expanded to include General Manager and office executive positions with each club. Every team was required to interview at least two minority candidates at such time. Female representation became part of the mandate last year.
The policy has come under fire from two camps over the twenty years that the Rooney Rule has been in effect. Some have argued against the NFL’s decision to introduce affirmative action, feeling the rule does nothing to address the issue of racism in sports.
Others argue the Rooney Rule is not enough to combat workplace discrimination. Many feel the Rooney Rule has done little to improve clubs’ hiring practices for high-level positions.
For example, in the 2012 offseason, eight head coaching and seven general manager jobs became available. Teams then hired no black or other minority personnel to fill those positions.
The contention is that the Rooney Rule has little effect on encouraging team owners to hire minority candidates. The mandate only states the teams must interview the required number of minority members.
Where the Rule Stands Today
About 70% of NFL players are black or persons of color. There are thirty-two teams in the NFL, and only one belongs to a visible minority member, Shahid Khan. Another team is co-owned by the wife of the Buffalo Bills owner, Terry Pegula. Pegula’s wife Kim is of Asian American descent.
Mike Tomlin and recently hired Lovie Smith are the only black head coaches in the NFL. Mike McDaniel in Miami identifies as multi-racial, Ron Rivera is Hispanic, and Robert Saleh is a Lebanese descendent. This year, two more black general managers bring the total to seven in executive positions.
In the wake of the Flores firing, a spate of head coaching positions became available. Once again, hiring practices have been called into question as McDaniel and Smith were the only two minority coaches hired from nine open spots.
Flores got fired while having a winning record and has not been able to land another head coaching job is a cause for concern. Although Brian has gained a coordinator position with the Steelers, every discrimination lawyer in the country will be watching this as this story unfolds.
The Brian Flores Story
Brian Flores got hired to guide the Miami Dolphins in their rebuilding campaign in 2019. The team won only five games in its first season under Flores. Yet, the Dolphins went 10-6 in 2020. Last year, Flores guided his squad to seven consecutive wins to finish the season 9-8.
Despite the winning record, team owner Stephen Ross fired Brian Flores with two years left on his contract. Many around the league feel Flores overachieved with less talent on his roster than most other teams.
Brian Flores filed the lawsuit after interviewing for three head coaching positions with other teams. In one case, Flores contends he received a text from Patriots coach Bill Belichick in error.
The text seemingly congratulates Flores for getting the New York Giants job three days before his scheduled interview. Belichick, it seems, meant to text former assistant Brian Daboll instead.
Flores alleges his previous interview appearances were for appearances only, and the hiring practices under the Rooney Rule have not had the desired effect. He stated in his suit that his interview with the Denver Broncos in 2019 was a sham and the team never intended to hire him.
Flores contends that the Rooney Rule has failed in its mandate to promote fairer hiring practices for minorities. The suit also claims that the mandate has stigmatized black coaches, and their natural talents are going unrecognized.
Since the Rooney Rule went into effect, there have been 129 openings for head coaching jobs in the NFL. Those roles got filled by only fifteen black candidates.
Flores notes that the higher ranks of NFL jobs fall far short of the representation of black players. Only 11% of the head coaching positions were taken by blacks in a league where 70% of the athletes are black.
The Future of Hiring Practices in the NFL
Racism in sports is not unique to the National Football League. All four major North American sports have struggled with the question of equity hiring practices. Yet, this most recent series of events put the NFL back under the spotlight during the Super Bowl.
Many other members of the coaching fraternity have spoken up since Brian Flores filed his class-action lawsuit. Keep following this space as more news unfolds about the NFL, the Rooney Rule, and Brian Flores’ lawsuit.