The League

Michael Oriard
Author

Michael Oriard

An English professor at Oregon State University and the author of several books on football, including Brand NFL Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport and The End of Autumn Reflections on My Life in Football

Value in debate

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Has the Rooney Rule become a joke? I don't think so. Has it solved the racial imbalance in hiring? Not even close. Is there a better alternative? Perhaps, but I don't know what it would be.

The Rooney Rule is just a mechanism to get minority candidates through the door. What happens after that is up to them and those who interview them. The candidates must impress, but the interviewers must also be open to being impressed. The Rooney Rule cannot guarantee either of those two conditions. But without it, would minority candidates even get through the door? Not as often, I'm afraid.

For all the obvious shortcomings of the Rooney Rule -- in the front office more egregiously than on the sidelines -- the NFL has done an enormously better job of minority hiring than major college football. When the Oregon legislature, in its most recent session, approved a version of the Rooney Rule for the state universities' athletic departments, criticism of legislators meddling where they don't belong only highlighted the failure of the NCAA to do anything more than talk about the issue. A national mood of anti-racially-hiring makes it particularly difficult to level a steeply slanted playing field that, on narrow legal terms, appears already level.

Those who run the most enlightened companies understand how diversity serves their self-interests in a variety of ways. As a group, of course, NFL owners have never been accused of enlightenment. The Rooney Rule too often fails to deliver on its promise, but even when it fails, it does some good. The criticism of the Redskins' recent hiring of Bruce Allen, followed by the public assurances from Roger Goodell that proper procedures were followed, at least keeps awareness of the issue in the public mind. The accompanying debate, also reminds other NFL clubs that their hiring practices will continue to receive public scrutiny.

Diversifying front offices is going to remain a slow, frustrating process, but at least the NFL has a process in place.

By Michael Oriard  |  December 18, 2009; 10:07 AM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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