A Suggested Add-On To The Rooney Rule

In light of Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL and three of its teams alleging racism in the hiring processes inside the league, the Rooney Rule has come under scrutiny once again.  I am on record for the last 20 years or so saying that the rule is well intentioned and one that would not be remotely necessary in a more perfect world.  At the same time, the rule is far too easily obeyed in fact while being evaded in spirit.  And most importantly, the Rooney Rule has no teeth; if a team or an owner flaunts the rule, the penalty might be a “million dollar fine” that owners can pay out of petty cash.

A recent addendum to the Rooney Rule came into play this week when the Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel to be their head coach.  McDaniel had been the offensive coordinator of the Niners and McDaniel is biracial.  The Niners are being rewarded for hiring/promoting a minority individual to a coordinator position that was the springboard for that individual to obtain a head coaching position.  The Niners will receive a third-round draft pick this year and another third-round draft pick next year; I don’t know if it is proper to call those picks “compensatory picks” or “reward picks”.  This is an attempt by the NFL to incentivize adding minority individuals to the pipeline that eventually turns out the 32 men who occupy head coaching positions at any given moment.

Yesterday, Jason LaCanfora posted an opinion piece on CBSSports.com saying that perhaps what the Rooney Rule really needs is meaningful punishment for teams that violate the rule with things like sham interviews.  Here is the start of that column:

“The overriding principle driving the Rooney Rule has been that if you incentivize diversity sufficiently, then the hierarchy of the NFL will begin to more closely resemble society at large.

“But what if that theory is flawed?

“What if it is proven to be naïve? What if it’s actually having the opposite effect on the hiring process?

“What if the expanded Rooney Rule is merely creating more interview opportunities, but the outcome of these searches is becoming increasingly one-sided in favor of white candidates than ever before?”

You can find the entire column here; it is worth reading because it makes the case that what exists now needs alteration/repair.  It is easy to say that there need to be consequences for violating the rule and maybe it is too easy to align oneself with that idea.

The difficulty here is that the Rooney Rule seeks to regulate intent.  The rule is procedural; a club with a vacancy at certain levels of  a team’s hierarchy must interview at least one and often two minority candidates for that vacancy.  That is not exactly a high bar to cross for a hiring official – particularly one who has already made up his mind who he wants to hire before any interviewing takes place.  Complying with the letter of the rule is almost trivial if the hiring official wants to skirt the intent of the rule which is to give minority candidates a fair shot at vacant positions.

It is easy to award added draft picks to teams as noted above because the end result is transparent.  It is rarely if ever transparent when one tries to measure or regulate intent.  I often say here that I cannot read minds; well, neither can any person or group of persons who might be tasked to be the watchdog for “interviewing intent”.  In theory, Jason LaCanfora is onto something; there need to be punishments as well as rewards in this arena.  However, I would not want to be the person who has to make the punishment call.

One more thing about the media coverage of this year’s NFL coaching carousel needs a comment.  Most commentators focus on the fact that until Mike McDaniel was hired, there was only one Black head coach in the NFL (Mike Tomlin).  That is correct but it is incomplete because the Rooney Rule specifies the need to interview minority candidates not just Black candidates.  To that end, the hiring of McDaniel in Miami brings the minority coaching list up to four.  While that may or may not be the level that commentators believe is ideal, four minority coaches are significantly better than one or two.  [The two non-Black minority coaches are Ron Rivera and Robert Saleh.]

I want to offer a different approach that might be used in addition to a more transparent application of the Rooney Rule to put more minority candidates in the head coaching pipeline.  The entry level positions in the coaching business are graduate assistants at the college level and minimum-wage-at-best interns with NFL teams.  That is where people who want to be football coaches get their start.  That career decision usually gets made soon after college and my sense is that some minority candidates find themselves in economic circumstances that do not allow them to take either sort of entry level job because they need a higher paying job.

Restricted flow of minorities into entry level positions must influence the numbers and ratios of minority coaching candidates at various levels of maturation as the years pass.  So, perhaps the NFL should invest some money in the form of stipends to minority individuals who want to take one of those entry level coaching positions such that the stipend makes the economic circumstances for minority candidates something more manageable.  Let me be clear; this will NOT be a magic wand that will resolve this issue in a year or even a decade.  What such a program MIGHT do is make the Rooney Rule obsolete some day – – on the assumption that NFL owners are not inherently incorrigible racists.

Just a thought…

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this reaction to the new name attached to the Washington NFL franchise – – the Commanders:

“A Commander? To some old-timers, reader Kevin Love reminds us, a Commander is a Philip Morris cigarette back in the 1960s. The TV commercial jingle was, ‘Have a Commander, welcome aboard!’ Selling point: A special vacuum ‘gently cleans every bit of tobacco.’ You still got lung cancer, but it was a tidy lung cancer. And when you checked into the hospital, they welcomed you aboard.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “A Suggested Add-On To The Rooney Rule”

  1. Incorrigible racists? Did someone say George Preston Marshall?

    It should be said: the Rooney Rule is a joke. The NFL will put pink shoes on athletes’ feet and pat themselves on the back. The Las Vegas Raiders, I swear, interviewed ten black men for the positions of head coach and GM. Then they hired two white men.

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