The NFL announced Tuesday, March 19th, that it will add new resolutions to improve diversity throughout its staff of its 32 teams and expand its Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule policy was inaugurated in 2003, and is named after Dan Rooney, the late and former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee. Before the expansion and announcement on Tuesday, the Rooney Rule stated that NFL teams were required to interview at least one minority candidate any time a head coaching position is open.
In a nutshell, the new guidelines for the Rooney Rule requires “NFL clubs to interview two minority candidates for head coaching positions, at least one minority candidate for coordinator vacancies and one external candidate for front-office positions”, quote from CNBC Sports.
I am all for inclusion, diversity, and equality. However, I question and worry if the new proposals and general policy is counterproductive to the well-intentioned implications of such policies. When it comes to jobs, any jobs, employers tend to hire candidates based on merits and experiences suitable to the position that will most likely lead to success for the company or position. This is a common, universal, and agreed upon notion, right? I would hope to think so.
There were other proposals that led to high controversy. Reported by ESPN, “NFL Network reported last week that the owners were considering a proposal that would have improved teams’ third-round draft picks by six or 10 spots if they hired a minority candidate for vacant GM or head-coaching openings, as well as other compensation for hiring minority candidates for such positions as quarterbacks coach. But on Tuesday’s conference call — which took the place of the league’s annual in-person May owners meeting — the resolutions involving draft-pick compensation were tabled, meaning no vote was taken and the proposals could be considered at a later date.” I am pleased this proposal got turned down (for now). I get what they are trying to do, but this is the wrong approach. By incentivizing teams to hire minorities for the pure intentions of getting better draft positions is counterproductive to “equality” and “inclusion”. I am not alone in this belief. Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, who became the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl back in 2007, addressed the proposal during a Monday edition of the #PFTPM podcast, and he is not a supporter of it. Coach Dungy shared how he has spoken to several African-American coaches in the NFL in order to understand their concerns regarding the proposal.
“There’s three things that they’re worried about,” Dungy said. “Number one, how does this put me in my relationship with the other coaches that I work with, and other white coaches? Are they thinking I’m getting an advantage now? Number two, when that General Manager or owner hires me, is he hiring me because he thinks I’m the best person, or is he hiring me to move his draft choice up a little bit? And then the third thing this is nobody feels like they want anything special . . . . Don’t hire me and then say I’m going to give you more draft choices later on because you need help. And I know that’s not the reason why the proposal is being put in, I know that’s not what they’re driving at, but that’s still the end result. And so there’s still some things the league needs to think about, about this proposal.”
Former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said he took offense to a proposal that would have provided draft-pick incentives to NFL teams that hired minority executives and coaches, reported Bleacher Report. Coach Lewis added that changes to the Rooney Rule requiring more minority interviews would be a “plus”, but the compensation plan was a step in the wrong direction. “It was offensive , definitely offensive,” Lewis added. “It was like having Jim Crow laws.” Ouch. He said it. I didn’t. He further added: “Draft picks are like gold. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. As a head coach, no one wants to be hired or put in that position.”
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn expressed his concerns. “I think sometimes you can do the wrong thing by trying to do the right thing”, Lynn said on CBS Sports Radio. Coach Lynn has a valid point. There are plenty of qualified minority head coaching and football operations candidates. Coach Lynn concurs by saying “I think that there are a lot of qualified African American coaches that could be a head coach in this league, and I just pray that we do our due diligence and give these guys an opportunity…and I think this is out of desperation…”, ChargersWire writes.
To finalize this point, Shawn Dixon from Arrowhead Live points out, “Compensating teams for hiring minorities may open up the thought that teams won’t be actually hiring the best candidate available if that candidate cannot provide any incentive. Understandably, there is hypocrisy in being concerned about non-minorities being passed over for positions, but the fact is that a person should receive a position based on their credentials, not the color of their skin. Adding more interviews and funneling the process to the coordinator positions are perfect additions to this process and will help make it fairer but bribing teams to hire minorities will tarnish the credibility of the process. It would be a punishment for teams that did not hire a minority. What about the teams that do have a minority on their staff? Do they get compensated for the years that they have been on the staff? The Chiefs have had Eric Bieniemy on the staff since 2013 and has been the offensive coordinator since 2018. Would they benefit from this rule, or would it just be the team that finally offers him a head coaching position? If the NFL owners were treating the hiring process fairly in the first place, then there would be no need for a policy like this to be put in place. [The Rooney Rule] is not actually changing the mindset of owners to bring in minority candidates. This change, while it may actually bring in more candidates, still will not change the mindset of the owners. They’ll gladly accept the incentive to hire a minority, but it would be the equivalent of giving a child candy to stop misbehaving in the grocery store.”
The original intentions of the Rooney Rule was to decrease racial discrimination in the NFL, and promote equal opportunities. Do I support racial discrimination? Absolutely not. Do I support equal opportunities? Absolutely. Having said that, I cannot prove or disprove that the NFL has or does discriminate by race. No one can. No owner or team has or is blatantly saying that. Instead, people point out that there are not enough minority head coaches or front office positions occupied by minorities, and conclude that it must be because of racial discrimination. I don’t believe in that narrative because I have faith in humanity that the general American people act in good will.
There is a popular study published in 2011 by Indiana University economist Todd Walker and researchers John L. Solow & Benjamin L. Solow titled ‘Moving on up: The Rooney Rule and minority hiring in the NFL’. The abstract is the following:
“Detecting and quantifying racial discrimination in the labor market is difficult. The sports industry offers a wealth of data and specific hiring practices which mitigates this difficulty. The Rooney Rule requires National Football League teams to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring a head coach. We examine a unique data set of high-level assistant coaches (offensive and defensive coordinators) from the beginning of the 1970 season through the beginning of the 2009 season to determine whether race is a factor in NFL teams’ decisions to promote these assistants to head coach. Using logit and hazard models that control for age, experience and performance, we conclude that conditional on a coach reaching coordinator status, there is no evidence that race influences head coach hiring decisions. We also find no evidence that the Rooney Rule has increased the number of minority head coaches.”
I challenge readers to read the full study here.
Today, the NFL is comprised of roughly 70% African-American players. Imagine a rule that says clubs need to draft an ‘X’ amount of white players because there needs to be equal opportunity for talented white college athletes. That rule would suggest that white athletes are simply not talented enough to make it to the NFL, so organizations need to give them a boost. I despised writing those last two sentences because that rule would be ridiculous, right? Teams draft the best talent, and the best qualified athlete for their team. Period. That’s not discrimination. The same logic goes to employers and their hiring requirements.
The study states, “Those who assert bias in NFL hiring practices typically note that the limited number of minority head coaches occurs despite the fact that roughly [70 percent] of NFL players are African-American. The implicit suggestion that this is evidence of discrimination, presumably because minority players are prevented from moving into coaching, does not follow. NFL playing experiences is neither a necessary nor a particularly common qualification for coaching in the league. For example, of the 32 head coaches that started the 2009 season, only 7 (22 percent) had significant professional playing experience. This is equally true for minority head coaches; of the 6 that started the 2009 season, only one (17 percent) was a former NFL player. Nor is it clear that the Rooney Rule is an effective way of increasing the proportion of minority coaches. A team that wished to discriminate on a racial basis could do so without violating the rule by interviewing a minority candidate whom it has no intention of hiring, before hiring a candidate of the preferred race. Although the policy is often credited for the increase in the number of minority head coaches, that increase would be result of other factors, including the development of assistant coaches that are excellent candidates for promotion.”
The study concludes by saying, “Using both logit regressions and hazard models, and controlling for age, experience and performance, we find no statistically significant race differences in the probability of being promoted from or leaving the set of high-level assistant coaches. Thus, there appears to be little support for the proposition that highly qualified African-American high-level assistant coaches are being overlooked when NFL teams hire a head coach. Nor is there much support for the proposition that the Rooney Rule has been successful at increasing the number of minority head coaches in the NFL, although the scarcity of minority head coaches makes it difficult to draw strong inferences. These results do not imply that discrimination cannot be responsible for the dearth of minority NFL head coaches. Our analysis focuses on the ability of African-American candidates to be hired as NFL head coaches, conditional on their having already attained the position of offensive or defensive coordinator. Minority representation in those positions is still relatively rare; in 2009, only 12 of the 67 high-level assistant coaches (18 percent) in our data were minorities. Discrimination could be responsible for the lack of minorities in the lower level coaching positions that represent the career path toward a head coaching job, although ironically it may also be the availability of a professional playing career as an alternative that reduces the number of African-Americans who go into coaching. Our results suggest that the Rooney Rule, while perhaps a valuable public statement of league goals, is not a particularly effective method for increasing the number of minority head coaches. If the NFL desires to increase the number of minority head coaches, it might better its efforts to increasing the number of minorities entering the coaching profession and moving up through the coaching ranks.”
I bolded the above because this may be the appropriate idea to be focusing on instead of the partisan notion of everything is racist. Luckily, there is one new provision in the expansion of the Rooney Rule that I am on board with, which supports the bolded statement above. ESPN reports, “Each of the 32 NFL teams will establish a minority coaching fellowship program. The coaching fellowships are to be full-time positions, one or two years in length, to provide NFL Legends, minority and female participants with hands-on training in NFL coaching. The idea is to establish a larger pool of qualified candidates in the pipeline from which head-coaching candidates are ultimately drawn.”
Now that’s a step in the right direction. However, I still fear that will exclude others from being accepted into such fellowships, getting hired into organizations, or from being promoted. Others being non-minorities who are trying to break through the sports industry. In a perfect world, EVERYONE would have EQUAL opportunity, if and only if, we truly live in a MERITOCRACY.