By Josh Underberg ’21
On Tuesday, May 19th, the National Football League (NFL) announced its plans to improve diversity and expand the Rooney Rule, a policy that requires teams with vacancies in either the head coaching position or senior football operation jobs to interview at least one ethnic-minority candidate. The decision was made official after the NFL’s 32 owners voted and had a follow-up conference call.
Enacted over seventeen years ago, the Rooney Rule is named after the late Steelers owner, Dan Rooney, who spearheaded the push for more diversity in the NFL.
The recent push for diversity is a direct response to the noticeable lack of minority coaches and senior personnel. According to MarketWatch, the NFL consists of less than 10% minority coaches, despite the fact that 70% of the league’s players are minorities. Additionally, over the course of the last three years, only two Black people have been hired for nineteen open head coaching spots. This is due, in part, to the fact that the Rooney Rule only requires teams to interview Black coaches but does not require them to actually hire Black coaches.
“While we have seen positive strides in our coaching ranks over the years aided by the Rooney Rule, we recognize that we can and must do more,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
NFL owners proved that they are willing to “do more,” walking away from Tuesday’s conference call with several newly approved measures. According to ESPN, three major steps were taken.
First, in addition to interviewing one minority candidate for head coach, teams will now be required to interview an additional candidate from outside their organization for any vacant offensive, defensive, or special-teams coordinator jobs.
Second, the Rooney Rule was expanded with hopes of expanding diversity within coaching as well as executive positions. According to Dan Graziano of ESPN, teams are now required to interview “minorities and/or female applicants” for numerous positions including team president, “senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, legal, football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology, and security positions.”
The third notable change that was made is that each of the 32 NFL teams will establish a minority coaching fellowship program. According to Graziano, these fellowships will be full-time positions that will last for one or two years and “provide minority, and female participants with hands-on training in NFL coaching.” The NFL’s goal in creating this program is to foster a larger pool of qualified candidates into the system from which head coaches are eventually selected.
“These steps will assure coaching and football personnel are afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to advance throughout our football operations,” Steelers owner and committee chairman Art Rooney II said.
According to the website of NFL Football Operations, all of these “policy changes were developed in consultation with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates for diversity and job equality in the league.”
The NFL has blatantly struggled with diversity for many years, and players - most notably Colin Kaepernick - have begun searching for change. Kaepernick, who has become widely known for kneeling during the national anthem, will see his efforts pay off to some degree. After years of criticism, the NFL and its owners have finally taken a step towards diversity.
“The policy changes made are bold and demonstrate the commitment of our ownership to increase diversity in leadership positions throughout the league,” Goodell said.
Despite making three significant changes, the NFL did not implement a rule that would have rewarded teams with draft picks. As reported by NFL Network, owners were considering a proposal that would have improved teams’ third-round draft picks by six or ten spots if they hired a minority candidate for open head-coaching or general manager positions. Ultimately, this resolution was tabled, meaning that no vote was taken, and the proposals would be considered at a later date.
Several coaches across the league expressed their discontent: “I think sometimes you can do the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing,” Los Angeles Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn said.
Lynn also said that there are plenty of qualified African-American coaches that could be head coaches in the NFL. “I just pray that we do our due diligence and give these guys an opportunity,” he said.
The NFL will continue to search for ways to improve diversity throughout the league. “The NFL is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which I believe is critical to our continued success,” Goodell said.