Why the NFL’s Rooney Rule is a Sham

Even though more than 65% of NFL players are Black, currently only three head coaches and five general managers are African American.

As we marveled at the athletic prowess demonstrated during the playoffs and Super Bowl, we realized how African American football players in every position continue to elevate the game. That’s why I find it to be so deplorable that the NFL gives African Americans an opportunity to toss a pigskin ball, sprint  down the field to score or ferociously tackle opponents but will not allow us to call plays as head coaches or make business decisions as front-office executives.

Let’s check the stats: Even though more than 65% of NFL players are Black, currently only three head coaches and five general managers are African American. To make matters worse, since the end of the regular season, eight head coaches and seven GMs were fired, and all 15 vacancies have been filled by so-called “qualified” white candidates.

I’m throwing a flag on such hiring practices.

It appears owners of the 32 NFL franchises have essentially disregarded the Rooney Rule – the decade-old initiative to promote the recruitment of minority head coaches and front-office executives – and re-instituted a “blackout” rule when it comes to considering candidates of color.

Prior to the establishment of the Rooney Rule in 2003, only six African Americans held head coaching positions since the league’s inception in 1920.

Since that time, NFL franchises have hired 11 African Americans and one Latino. Moreover, of the past seven Super Bowls – including Sunday’s game – four African American head coaches (Chicago Bears’ Lovie Smith, Indianapolis Colts’ Tony Dungy, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and Colts’ Jim Caldwell) and three African American GMs (Jerry Reese of New York Giants, Rod Graves of Arizona Cardinals and Ozzie Newsome of Baltimore Ravens) have lead their teams to the Holy Grail of the sport.

Despite this track record of achievement, the NFL has lost considerable yardage in senior management diversity. It should be an embarrassment to the NFL that of the eight teams that have interviewed and recruited head coaches and the seven that conducted “extensive” GM searches, none saw fit to seriously consider much less hire an African American or other ethnic minorities.

Corrective action must be taken immediately to reverse course or we risk never seeing a new crop of African American coaches or executives anytime soon.

The pipeline of offensive and defensive coordinators has dried up. This has traditionally been the primary recruitment pool for which head coaching positions have been filled. Currently, the only black offensive coordinator is former Indianapolis Head Coach Jim Caldwell who served in this position for the Baltimore Ravens Sunday as the team won Super Bowl XLVII. His play calling was absolutely instrumental in the success of the Ravens in the last third of the regular season and throughout the playoffs. However, it is ironic that even he will not start next season as a NFL head coach or general manager.

In corporate America, effective diversity policies only work if there’s a mechanism for accountability or consequences for noncompliance. Leadership in this area must be mandated at the top with CEOs who have infused diversity as a essential part of the corporate culture and tied such hiring and promotion practices to executive compensation packages.

As consumers and fans, we, too, have a role to play.

We cannot sit on the sidelines and cheer…and let qualified African Americans be denied access to senior management positions in a professional sport where we disproportionately dominate on the field. We cannot afford to be distracted by the outsized success and contracts of a few superstars and be lulled into believing that it translates into opportunities for all. We cannot let our excellence on the field be taken for granted. We must ensure that the same access to become managers, executives, sportscasters, etc. that for decades have been the domain of white male former athletes is also granted to African Americans who have made huge contributions to the sport.

We must let our voice be heard. It is our responsibility to hold the NFL and for that matter all professional and collegiate sports accountable.

NFL: You are hereby placed on probation. We will now be watching with greater interest your actions off the field than your plays on the gridiron.