When this year’s annual wave of hirings and firings in the NFL occurred the eventual landscape of the league further called into question the application of the Rooney Rule.
Just two of the 32 teams employ an African-American Head Coach in a league which has over 70% of black athletes. Add to this that four black Head Coaches were fired, including Steve Wilks who lost his job in Arizona with the Cardinals after just one year, and it makes for a worrisome situation.
With high-powered offenses in vouge a hot Head Coaching candidate was Kansas City Chiefs offense coordinator Eric Bieniemy. The Chiefs ranked first it total offense for the regular season but, yet Bieniemy will have to wait another day to land a top job.
There are proposed changes to the rule. On December 12, 2018, at a meeting in Dallas the NFL’s Workplace Diversity Committee presented several modifications to make the rule more effective.
They also endorsed strong accountability rules if organisations are found to have evaded the procedures stated in the rule.
An early thought is to expand the rule to also apply it when coordinator jobs become vacant. 2017 Saw just 13 coordinators across the league and expanding the rule would help give minority coaches a more equal opportunity.
The rule has always created a division on some level. There are those who believe it only further serves to create racial tension rather than resolve it. Hypotheticals are drawn telling social media we care not for the colour of a coach, but that the roles should be filled by the best candidate. Alas, if only it worked that way.
Covert racism exists, and the NFL felt it so bad that they had to create the Rooney Rule so that minority coaches could get an interview.
The argument which is often thrown up is that people cannot be hired based on their skin colour. An argument which is right on the money but also misses the point of the rule. To hire somebody because of their race or gender is even more insulting than not hiring them at all. The rule is designed to give minority coaches a chance to showcase their ability and create a level playing field where, for so long, one has not existed.
In a league that has demonstrated it’s lack of awareness when dealing with issues that largely affect African-Americans, disproportionately so in some areas, the need for the rule has never been greater.
There must be an understanding of the detractors of the rule that it is not proposing we shoehorn black Head Coaches into every vacancy, but we must acknowledge the disproportionate amount of minority coaches compared to the players.
This could perhaps be explained when we look at ownership. The league has just two minority owners, Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kim Pegula who co-owns the Buffalo Bills. Of the 32 teams in the league 22 of them have been owned by the same person of family for at least 20 years.
Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports, spoke with CNN last year after the Carolina Panthers had been taken over by David Tepper and hinted that Tepper being a minority owner of another team helped with his bid.
“Who owners invite into their fraternity – and it is overwhelmingly a fraternity – is self selective”Dr. Richard Lapchick,
Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports
Sports attorney Richard Roth, also speaking with CNN, added,
“Historically the wealth in this country [America] belongs to white males. It’s the same reason most Fortune 500 companies, most law firms, etc. are owned by white males.”Richard Roth, Sports attorney
And the same could be said of how they hire their Head Coaches.
When the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury to be their new Head Coach it raised more questions than it gave answers. Kingsbury had a losing record at Texas Tech, yet his first taste of the NFL will be as a Head Coach.
This is not to blame Kingsbury, anybody else in his position would have done the same thing. However, when compared with another candidates for a top job, Bieniemy and Dallas Cowboys’ passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach Kris Richard, and the body of work they have put together at the top level, it is hard not to ask the uncomfortable questions of covert racism in the league.
In isolation the hiring is of minimal impact, but teams are now playing loose and fast with how they interpret the rule. Perhaps the worst kept secret towards the end of the 2017 season was that Jon Gruden would become Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders. Gruden was their guy and therefore any interview would be a sham. Nothing more than a tick box exercise. Including that for the minority candidate.
Owner Mark Davis met with Gruden on Christmas Eve 2017 and said the former broadcaster was “all in”to take the Raiders job. Davis fired then coach Jack Del Rio on New Year’s Eve before confirming Gruden as their next coach in early January.
The General Manager Reggie McKenzie confirmed that the Raiders did comply with the rule, but the swiftness of Gruden’s hiring raised questions as to the integrity of those interviews.
A more sinister question must be asked: are minority coaches being interviewed nothing more than a tick-box exercise?
Seven different minority candidates interviewed for the eight vacant positions, with four of those having multiple interviews – Bieniemy (five), Jim Caldwell (four), Brian Flores (four) and Kris Richard (three).
Yet even with all of those interviews, only Flores landed a job as he is in line to take over the Miami Dolphins once the New England Patriots’ season comes to a close.
The rule has seen its fair share of high points as evidenced by a league-high eight minority Head Coaches at the start of the 2017 season, tying that of the 2011 campaign.
However, changes in society and culture necessitate the tweaking of the rule to keep up with the ever-evolving passage of time.
The proposed changes are a step in the right direction, but we must also confront the uncomfortable reality that there is a disproportionate amount of minority coaches in a league which is made up of over 70% minority players.