The League

Adam Hoff

Adam Hoff

The co-author of The Football Uncyclopedia

Trickle down equality


The "Rooney Rule" was enacted in 2003 to create more head coaching opportunities for black coaches by requiring each team to interview at least one minority candidate for open coaching positions. The rule has worked, as the number of black coaches has shot up dramatically since that time and we've seen major success stories as a result. Of course, for every Mike Tomlin that ascends to the head coaching position, we see artificial hiring processes where black candidates are interviewed to meet an obligation, with no real chance of getting the job. This leads to a natural question: is the Rooney Rule the NFL equivalent of to jaywalking laws in Washington? In other words, we've got a rule that we all pretend matters but, in reality, everyone just pays lip service to.

There is no doubt, in my mind, that many NFL teams treat the Rooney Rule as a formality at best and simply play by the rules to avoid getting busted like the Lions did in 2003. I also have no doubt that the Rooney Rule may very well have already achieved maximum utility in the sense that NFL teams are now invested in finding talented black coaches, with or without a rule.

So does that mean we get rid of it? The answer lies in the underlying fundamentals of affirmative action type rules and restrictions. What's to say that affirmative action (or rules resembling affirmative action - I want to be clear that I'm not labeling the Rooney Rule as affirmative action) is often a necessary measure to create equal opportunity? Consider education: if public education created true equal opportunity for all students, regardless of race or socio-economic status, we never would have seen cases like Gratz v. Bollinger at Michigan.

The argument for affirmative action in higher education is that you finally have an access point at which to resolve unfairness and create relative opportunities. The same applies to jobs, just one step further up the ladder (ie: if we can't course-correct in college admissions, that pushes the need to do so into the job sector).

With all of that in mind, you could argue that we need the Rooney Rule more than ever. Why? Because it stands as a symbol for an inclusive approach to hiring... an approach that simply must be emulated in a downward fashion. To eradicate the need for affirmative action measures at the NFL hiring level, we need more minority coaches in the high school ranks, in college and at coordinator positions in the pros. If we don't want an artificial system, we need to bolster the natural system. The NFL is setting a standard of inclusive hiring that we hope will influence decision-makers on lower levels and therefore create more minority coaches - some of whom will one day become candidates for NFL jobs.

In fact, you could argue that the Rooney Rule is not only still valuable at the NFL level, but that it needs to be expanded into NCAA Division One football. Given the paltry number of minority head coaches in college football, it seems pretty clear that a signaling device is not enough. Just this past summer, the NFL extended the Rooney Rule beyond the head coaching position and into all senior-level football positions within NFL organizations. If anything, the Rooney Rule is gaining relevance and importance, rather than sliding toward becoming a nominal policy with no true impact. It may feel irrelevant at the NFL level - but that's only because we're on the way to solving the problem. At other levels of football coaching, the problem persists.

By Adam Hoff  |  December 18, 2009; 10:49 AM ET  | Category:  NFL , Washington Redskins Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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"black candidates are interviewed to meet an obligation"

So the rule has no purpose then, other than to be politically correct.

Posted by: horace1 | December 18, 2009 3:50 PM

New Rule: you are unqualified if your IQ is above 100.

Posted by: g0tcha | December 18, 2009 7:11 PM

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