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The NFL Approves New Measures To The “Rooney Rule”

The NFL recently introduced new measures to expand what is colloquially known as the “Rooney Rule,” which was instituted to promote and encourage diversity hiring.

Named after the late Dan Rooney – former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairperson of the National Football League’s (“NFL”) diversity committee – the Rooney Rule is a NFL policy that requires teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs (e.g., general manager). Notably, there is no hiring preference given to minority candidates; the Rooney Rule only requires that teams interview a certain amount of individuals.

In the NFL, ethnic-minorities account for 70 percent of players. However, as of the 2019-2020 NFL season, ethnic-minorities coached only 12.5 percent of regular season games. As a whole, the NFL only has four ethnic-minority head coaches and two ethnic-minority general managers. As of January 2020, five NFL teams had head coaching vacancies for the upcoming 2020 – 2021 season. Of the five openings, a minority applicant filled only one. The Washington Redskins hired Ron Rivera, a Latin American, to fill their head coaching vacancy. Rivera, however, had recently been fired from his head-coaching job with another team, the Carolina Panthers, resulting in a scratch for diversity hires for the NFL’s upcoming season.

On Tuesday, NFL team owners approved new measures directed at improving diversity in coaching and senior football operation jobs.

For reference, NFL rules require that 24 of 32 NFL owners must vote in favor of a resolution for it to go into effect. The NFL recently approved measures with respect to the Rooney Rule, including:

• Teams and the league office are now required to interview “minorities and/or female applicants” for positions such as team president and “senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, legal, football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology and security positions.”

• Each of the 32 NFL teams will establish a minority coaching fellowship program. The coaching fellowships are to be full-time positions, one or two years in length, to “provide NFL Legends, minority and female participants with hands-on training in NFL coaching.”

These changes will expand the current iteration of the Rooney Rule. Notably, they were not the only proposed expansions. NFL team owners did not move forward with a proposal that would have improved a team’s draft position if the team hired an ethnic-minority candidate for a vacant head coach or senior football operation position. This proposal also included additional compensation for hiring an ethnic-minority candidate for lower tier positions such as quarterbacks coach or similar position-specific roles. The proposal was not rejected outright; instead, it was tabled for the time being and no immediate votes were cast. As far as the draft-pick resolution is concerned, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, “there was a great deal of support … but there were also some suggestions, amendments and thoughts that we may want to go back and talk to others … and try to strengthen it and try to make sure it does what we were originally intending.”

Reactions to both the failed compensation plan and passed amendments have ranged from criticism to endorsement. Marvin Lewis, former NFL head coach, felt the compensation plan was inappropriate, stating, “It was offensive, definitely offensive … it was like having Jim Crow laws.” Some other minorities with long-term NFL affiliations reportedly shared Lewis’ perspective. On the other hand, Dan Rooney’s son Art Rooney II (current owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers) stated, “we believe the policies demonstrate the NFL Owners’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion … the development of young coaches and young executives is key to our future. These steps will assure coaching and football personnel are afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to advance throughout [the NFL].” The Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach is Mike Tomlin, an African-American and the youngest NFL head coach to ever win a Super Bowl. Tomlin has held the position of head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for twelve consecutive seasons.

The full text of the NFL’s amendments to the Rooney Rule can be found here.

© Copyright 2020 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLPNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 147

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About this Author

Jacob M. Davis Associate  Denver Litigation
Associate

Jacob Davis is an associate who focuses his practice on litigation matters.

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