The Rooney Rule: How effective is it?


Matt Quinnan via Wikipedia

Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith coaches his team from the sideline.

Carson Knebel, Student Life Editor

Throughout the history of the NFL, the head coaching position has been predominantly held by white men. In 2003, the NFL recognized this and created the Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule makes it so that during the interview process a head coach of a minority must be interviewed. “The Rooney Rule is one part of the NFL’s effort to develop a deep, sustainable talent pool at all levels of the organization. The policy promotes diverse leadership among NFL clubs to ensure that promising candidates have the opportunity to prove they have the necessary skills and qualifications to excel,” stated NFL operations. 

Theoretically, if the NFL incentivizes diversity enough, then the league will start to resemble the general population better as a whole. But is diversifying the league what is actually happening, or could the Rooney Rule be missing the mark?

In the NFL’s most recent hiring cycle, there were nine vacant head coaching positions. Only two of those positions were filled by members of a minority. This cycle was about the same as past hiring cycles, bringing the league total to five out of 32 coaches being a part of a minority. But is this how it should really be in a league where over 70% of the players are not white? Many would argue that the mark for diversity among head coaches should be higher.

Now this begs the question: If more minority coaches are being interviewed, then why are more not being hired? NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith believes that it is due to the lack of enforcement with the rule. “How important is a rule where it has no consequences? How strong is a rule where it has no transparency? How good is a rule if no one is held accountable to it?” Smith asked.

The Rooney Rule has been fairly successful however in bringing more head coaches of a minority to the interview table. So why are more not being hired? Pleasant Valley Girls Track and Field coach Kenny Wheeler believes that although minority coaches are getting more chances to show what they can do, they are not actually being considered more. 

Teams will have a tendency to leak who their favored candidate is, or when teams have both head coach and general manager openings, there will often be general managers who have someone in mind that they’ve worked with before that they plan to bring in. And so is the interview process itself fair and open if the process is just there so that it checks the boxes so to speak if they already have someone in mind?” said Wheeler.

The issue of diversity being considered in the hiring process is not only an issue in the NFL, though. The Rooney Rule has actually been adopted by a countless number of companies nationwide. Even with these efforts made by companies, a recent study done by Northwestern University showed that white candidates are two and half times more likely to be hired than a candidate of color.

Wheeler believes this is caused by subconscious biases. “I think race certainly comes into play as a part of the hiring process. In the sense that it’s a part of one’s identity that we can see, I think we have inherent biases that may infiltrate the interview process that may direct our thinking towards an individual or a particular group of candidates.” stated Wheeler. “As important as it is to have a diverse group of interview candidates brought in, the individuals doing the hiring also need to be reflective of that same diversity so that the discussion is more equitable.”

The issue of implicit bias in the hiring process is one that is very difficult to solve. Although many efforts have been made, as a society, we are still a long way from complete equality throughout  the hiring process. Although it may be difficult to do, people who are hiring need to make more of a conscious effort to judge their candidates not by what they see on the outside, but rather by their credentials, resume and true character.