The National Football League’s “Rooney Rule” requires every team to interview one qualified minority candidate for a head-coaching job. That requirement was introduced by owners in 2003, but it has done little to remedy the perceived problem that spawned it. About 70% of NFL players are black. Today, 17 years after Pittsburgh Steelers owner John Rooney pushed through his diversity-inspired rule, the NFL has two African-American general managers for 32 teams, or 6.3%. The league has three black head coaches for 32 teams. That’s 9.4%.
The contrast with the National Basketball Association, which also has an overwhelmingly black player population, is striking, as the graph above illustrates. Is this evidence of NFL discrimination? It’s certainly a bad look. Fans, of course, literally do not care what color their team’s management is as long as their work results in winning seasons and championships.
So this coming week, in a Zoom meeting necessitated by the pandemic, NFL owners will reportedly consider a new proposal to provide incentives to motivate owners to hire more of those minority candidates rather than just interview them.
Under the proposal, a team could improve its third-round draft selection by up to 16 picks, going up 10 spots for hiring a minority candidate as general manager or an equivalent-level position, and six spots for hiring a minority head coach. A team would move up five spots in the fourth round if a minority head coach or general manager successfully entered the third year on the job, according to the report. In another feature of the proposed incentivized Rooney rule, a team retaining a minority quarterbacks coach after one year would net a fourth-round compensatory pick.
This is more than affirmative action, which itself rings ethics alarms (or should). This is the equivalent of paying employers to discriminate on the basis of race. I’ve read as many articles about this batty proposal as I can find, and none of them mention the legal problems, never mind the ethical objections. Higher draft choices are worth more to pro football teams than cash. What happens to the new Rooney rule when a white candidate with more experience than the black candidate a team hired as a coach or general manager sues, claiming that the policy rewards discrimination?
I think that law suit prevails, and the rule eventually gets struck down.
Indiana sportswriter Gregg Doyel focuses on another problem, the stigma such a policy would attach to minority hires. “White, black, Latino….anybody who sweats and bleeds and works his way toward the top of the food chain in a job market as competitive as the NFL coaching ranks … well, that person, whoever he is, wouldn’t want the job if it came like this, ” he writes, “with the NFL patting his boss on the head and giving him a cookie, sorry, a better spot in the NFL draft.” Then there is the inherent unfairness of the rule. He muses,
Imagine the Jacksonville Jaguars, to pull a franchise out of thin air, hiring a minority after the 2020 NFL season. Let’s say the Jaguars hire former Jags quarterback Byron Leftwich, among the impressive minority candidates who didn’t get hired after the 2019 season. That means the Jaguars’ third-round pick in 2022 improves by six spots.
That means jumping five teams. Imagine them jumping five teams that weren’t hiring a coach after the 2020 season. In other words, imagine them jumping five other teams who did nothing “wrong,” in this skewed form of NFL justice.
Yeah, that’s stupid, but it’s still secondary to the fact that the NFL is proposing rewarding teams for racial discrimination. Doyel thinks the proposed rule is a bluff, and that the idea is to force owners to focus on the embarrassing dearth of minority management positions by triggering public debate. I doubt it. Once our society started rationalization that racial discrimination was a legal and ethical remedy for racial discrimination, unethical policies like this were bound to follow, and have.