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As Brian Flores remains alone in his class-action NFL lawsuit, Black leadership has his back.
The National Urban League, National Action Network, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the NAACP met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday.
In the virtual meeting, leaders discussed replacing the Rooney Rule, a well-intended but impractical means of hiring diverse coaches. In 2003, the Rooney Rule was introduced as a NFL league policy that requires teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching jobs. The policy is named after former Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who was credited with spearheading the effort.
NFL teams who are hiring but not interviewing diverse candidates can be fined a hefty penalty. On the contrary, teams who do add diverse head coaches can benefit by earning valuable future draft picks. Yet and still, NFL owners and General Managers, who are majority White, routinely select head coaches who look like them.
For decades Black players – not POC – have comprised between 55 – 65% of all NFL players, yet qualified and experienced Black head coaches are routinely looked over in the hiring process.
Many of these Black candidates are former NFL players themselves. Nevertheless, many are often relegated to leading high school teams, low-level college programs, or assistant coaches in the NFL.
Working Twice as Hard to Get Half as Much
There are 32 NFL teams. 30 are White-owned, a Pakistani American owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and an Asian American co-owns the Buffalo Bills. With such gaping diversity, it’s obvious why there are presently only two Black head coaches for the upcoming 2022-23 season.
People hire whom they are comfortable with. Those who they relate to and the fact is when a rule such as the Rooney Rule has to be implemented just to get a Black foot in the door – oftentimes with little chance of being hired – a major change is needed.
Rooney Rule is NFL’s ‘Affirmative Action’
Over the years, tweaks have been made to enhance the Rooney Rule’s effectiveness however no positive outcomes have lasted.
While in theory, this rule would elevate more diverse head coaches, in actuality, many teams interview qualified minority and Black candidates as a mere formality. Just a check off the boxes in order not to be financially penalized.
Added Sharpton, in a statement: “The Rooney Rule has been proven to be something the owners used to deceptively appear to be seeking real diversity. We must have firm targets and timetables.”
Black Coaches are purposely ‘Overqualified’
Longtime Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is mentioned in Flores’ lawsuit, claiming:
“Mr. Bieniemy has the pedigree, track record and reputation to make him a sought-after Head Coach. However, despite being interviewed for approximately 20 vacant positions over the last five years, no team has extended Mr. Bieniemy an offer.”
While discrimination is often hard to prove, interviewing twenty times and not receiving the job speaks volumes.
League spokesman Brian McCarthy stated the virtual meeting was “a productive and thoughtful conversation as the NFL shares the goal of ensuring that everyone has equitable access to opportunity. We look forward to continuing the dialogue.”
‘Continuing dialogue’ is about all they can do. A major hurdle in this effort is that the NFL’s individual owners control personnel decisions, not the league itself.
The NFL has attempted measures to incentivize teams to hire, but again, they choose who they want, regardless of incentive and the hard truth is that many of them would rather lose with theirs than win with ours.