TSL Op-Ed: The Rooney Rule Bamboozle-Move

Bookended between Michael Silver’s Yahoo.com column last month on the roadblocks faced by black head coaches in the NFL and LZ Granderson’s ESPN.com column last week on the need to tweak the Rooney Rule were hundreds of comments and concerns, theories and thoughts, in regard to everything wrong with the NFL’s corporate attempt at practicing affirmative action.

Black Monday turned out a few weeks later to be anything but that. Eight NFL head coaching vacancies filled, not one person of color hired. Depending on whom you listen to, only between five and eight minority coaches were interviewed for these vacancies. Depending on whom you speak to, less than those five-to-eight interviews were of a serious, “you have a legit opportunity to be considered for this job” nature. Which of course started an uproar. Especially in the media, especially in the wake of the NFL’s Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship Advisory Council, especially with the Fritz Pollard Alliance in place to protect things like this from happening. Everybody and their grandmother’s mother began publicly putting the NFL on blast for not using the Rooney Rule properly, for not taking the matter of hiring black or minority coaches seriously, for basically acting like they always have, like the Rooney Rule had become a hindrance to how they handle their business.

Below the surface: The NFL is so over the Era of Pacification. Above the surface: Reality.

So then let’s just get to the bottom of this and what is not being said: The Rooney Rule is not about race. It’s about something more important: fairness.

It is a rule that, in its original state, was set in place a decade ago by the NFL to assure that its owners would be fair to everyone when it came to their hiring practices and how they dealt with bringing people into their selected organizations. It has since proven to be about the single-mindedness NFL owners have when it comes to looking out for themselves and their own.

They used race (African-Americans at the forefront; other minorities secondary) to divert the fact that one group was not alone in being ostracized from the process, and to cover how all groups outside of the white men were.


Like affirmative action before it, they wanted the Rooney Rule to be a guilt trip. Something that could be used to ease and pacify a moral compass, but, more importantly, something to throw back in the face of the “group” that forced the rule to be put in effect.

A covert mentality: We’re gonna do something nice for you to right our wrongs, but don’t get upset when we attach words like “quota” and “unqualified candidates” to the pushback a few years down the line once we feel the Rule you all demanded has run it’s course.

The Rooney Rule is basically no different than the age requirement in the NBA. It’s a rule put in place because the owners can’t control themselves, or their behavior, when it comes to certain matters involving their teams. Although the principle of both rules are diametrically different, the purpose remains Siamese. And just like the NBA’s Age Requirement for Eligibility Law, the NFL does a great job of disguising what the Rooney Rule really is about. But they do an even better job of making us – their unconditionally adoring, gullible public – believe that it’s something in place for the better and best interest of those that the rule is applied to, as opposed to protect those the rule is applied by.

Again, this is not about race. Race just happens to be exclusively connected to it. It is more acutely about being fair and the impossibility for an exclusive group of white men to be that.

Which is why all of the conversations and concerns about the Rooney Rule need to cease. The conversations are superficial, because the Rule has become superficial. If, after ten years of having a policy in place, both the owners and the NFL are still having problems adhering to it, a conclusion can be drawn that the Rule isn’t the problem or the answer to one.

It’s so much more intrinsic than that.

What the Rooney Rule has succeeded in doing – which can be looked at as more substantial than securing brothas and other minorities jobs and interviews – is exposing the true nature of the NFL owners.

Applying names and labels (bigotry, cronyism, nepotism, ol’ boys network, etc.) to the owners and their mentality is unnecessary. Pointless. Their overall treatment of those not created in their likeness does that without any additional nouns.

Just the fact that the NFL feels the need to have a Rooney Rule forty-eight years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, speaks truth to matter and truth to power. Interpret it anyway you want, but to have a self-imposed “law” in place for the owners to even be fair across the board when looking at people as potential coaches, says all that needs to be said.

Qualified or unqualified, quota or no quota, to allocate or not allocate room, space or position for someone inside of your “fraternity,” it doesn’t make a difference. The Rooney Rule still being around – and not abolished – after ten years says that the NFL and its owners need “help,” need a mandate, need something “punishable by law” for them to look at, look into, consider people of color equal to the white men they would look at, look into and consider for coaching positions.

If you think I’m wrong, do this: Just look at the results of the recent coaching hires and the process used in making those decisions that seem to have everyone so upset and think of how the procedures and results would have been if they didn’t have Rooney Rule to abide by?

Moving forward, the Rooney Rule should no longer be looked at as the crutch that assists black and minority coaches gain equal footing in pursuit of coaching opportunities. In 2013, in a multi-billion-dollar business where the workforce that is generating the bulk of that revenue is 60-70% of color, there is no reason for a hiring practice policy to be enforced. That should be a given.

Out of sheer fairness, the people in the position to build staffs that go beyond the playing field in the NFL, should obligate those opportunities to those that look like the people making them money instead of just to people that look like them.

That would be fair. That would be too much like right.

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