The NFL has a problem hiring minorities into the most coveted leadership roles. Despite the massive success of black head coaches like Mike Tomlin, this position as well as the general manager role are rarely occupied by people of color. It’s a stark contrast to the players on the field.
The league isn’t taking this sitting down. They’re aware of the problem, and putting in institutional changes. Yet dwindling numbers of minorities exist in leadership roles now compared to when the problem first began getting explicitly addressed. What is the next step to take — if any?
Why the NFL aims to fix the lack of minority hires in leadership roles
Tomlin, head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2007, is the go-to example for why the NFL’s existing minority boosting rule works. The Rooney Rule helped Tomlin get into the room to interview for the Steelers job. He wasn’t rumored to be particularly prominent on the organization’s radar.
As The Undefeated reports, Tomlin impressed the Steelers top brass nonetheless, got the job, and became one of the most respected head coaches in the game.
The Rooney Rule mandates that each round of interviews for top jobs like head coach and GM requires at least one minority interviewee. For a time, it appeared to be a rousing success.
But in recent years, its efficacy has come into question. High-ranking minorities in particular seem to work on a shorter leash. They get dropped for less egregious failings than their white counterparts. In this context, the NFL ownership committee seeks to put the Rooney Rule up for further adjustments.
The new, controversial proposal to encourage minority hires
A new resolution came up for discussion this month regarding the Rooney Rule. The first part is mostly uncontroversial. It posits that teams can no longer bar assistant coaches from taking interviews for coordinator positions with other teams.
The proposal would help more coaches advance toward the head coaching phase of their careers regardless of race. It makes more candidates in general, and thus more minority candidates, available to interview for major promotions. That NFL quickly discussed and easily passedproposition, reports ESPN.
It’s the second adjustment to the Rooney Rule that turned heads. A team that hires a minority head coach, in that coach’s second season, would move up six spots in the third round of the NFL draft. For a GM hire, that team would move 10 spots up in the draft. And these bonuses stack, meaning a team could gain 16 spots in one go.
How the sports world reacted to the tabling of the new resolution
That draft incentive came up for discussion and was quickly tabled. While diversity remains an issue in the NFL, owners seemed to bristle at the idea of tying NFL draft fates to the Rooney Rule. Tomlin, always one of the first to be asked about developments in this area, thinks they should give the concept a second look.
“We’ve always taken it from the approach of, punitive if you don’t interview minority candidates,” Tomlin said to ESPN.” I just like the different approach in terms of spinning it 180 and talking about maybe incentivize those that develop the talent and those that hire the talent.” However, many fans were more split on the proposal.
Some expressed hopelessness with the state of the NFL, claiming that owners would find ways to circumvent the rules no matter what the incentives are. Others were purely dismissive, calling for the subject to be dropped. The resolution hasn’t been officially declined, though, so this particular controversy will continue to be discussed for the foreseeable future.