The National Football League’s Rooney Rule — adopted in 2003 to promote diverse leadership and named for Dan Rooney, the progressive late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers — has been expanded to include women. This news was one of the biggest stories to come out of the league’s annual meeting, held in Palm Beach, Florida last month.
The Rooney Rule requires teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for positions at several levels of leadership — including general manager and other front office positions. The revised rule now requires all teams to interview at least two women and/or persons of color when hiring for prominent positions, and all interviews must be conducted in person.
“The question is if including women under the Rooney Rule for coaching vacancies could result in fewer racial minorities interviewing for those roles,” wrote Lindsay Jones for TheAthletic.com. “For example, it is now possible that a team could fulfill the Rooney Rule requirement for a head coaching vacancy interviewing two white women and no Black men.”
Current Steelers owner Art Rooney (Dan’s son) and chair of the NFL’s Workplace Diversity Committee indicated that the pool of women likely to interview for head coaching jobs is small. “For that reason, we didn’t see it as inhibiting the number of interviews by racial minorities at this point in time,” he told TheAthletic.com. “Obviously, we can address that as time goes on.”
As BleacherReport.com noted: “During the 2021 season, women made up 38.8 percent of the NFL league office, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. In addition, women made up 25.3 percent of teams’ senior administration, 3.1 percent of CEOs and presidents and 1.5 percent of assistant coaches. With the Rooney Rule changes, those numbers could increase in 2022.”
Additionally, a formal resolution was adopted at the NFL’s annual meeting that requires all teams to “employ a … female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority to serve as an offensive assistant. This person will receive a one-year contract and work closely with the head coach and offensive staff to gain experience. Clubs will receive reimbursement from a league-wide fund towards the coach’s salary for up to two years.”
Many current head coaches in the league have offensive experience, and the NFL said via a statement that “we believe this resolution will assist greatly in continuing to source and identify diverse candidates earlier in their career, providing pipeline depth and furthering developing the diverse offensive pipeline.”
“We’ve worked for years and made progress in many areas to ensure that staff and leaders in our office and at our clubs reflect the racial and gender makeup of America, but we have more work to do, particularly at the head coach and front-office level,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement obtained by CNN.com.
To that end, the league also formed the new NFL Diversity Advisory Committee – which includes business leaders, academics and former Houston Texans General Manager Rick Smith — to review league and club policies.
“The six-member committee will lend its expert, external perspective on industry best practices and will evaluate league and club diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies and initiatives, including all hiring processes, policies and procedures, with a primary focus on senior-level coach and front office personnel positions,” according to the NFL. “After completing this evaluation, the committee will provide comprehensive recommendations to the league office and club ownership for consideration.”
Diversity is a hot topic in the NFL right now, thanks to the lawsuit filed in February by former Miami Dolphins head coach (and now senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach for the Steelers) Brian Flores against the NFL and three teams, alleging racist hiring practices.
“God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals,” Flores said at the time in a statement released by the law firm representing him in the case. “My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.”
Goodell responded at a news conference later that month, admitting the NFL “fell short … by a lot” on hiring Black and minority coaches.