Rooney Rule Home

Many people believe Mike Tomlin got the head coaching position for the Steelers mainly because of the Rooney Rule

What exactly is the Rooney Rule?

The Rooney Rule is a rule that was created by the National Football League in 2002 that requires every franchise to interview at least one minority candidate for the head coaching position once there is a vacancy.  There are some sports enthusiasts that believe the world has become more politically correct and so we don’t need a rule such as this.  However, studies suggest that for some reason the NFL’s top positions have not followed the trend of increased diversity.

What has led to the Rooney Rule?

In the time leading up to the rule’s inception, many companies and organizations started to diversify as discrimination laws were created and being enforced.  Even sports leagues saw a great amount of diversity take place.   In a study taken by The New York Law Review, only seven percent, of the NBA organizations had minorities as head coaches in the early 1990s.  By the 2000s that number jumped dramatically to 48 percent of the coaches being minorities.  However, the NFL never got the memo and was stuck hovering around six percent of its teams with minority coaches.

Something needed to be done about the lack of progression on the front of diversity in the NFL.  With the NFL having nearly 65 percent of its players as African American, it was almost embarrassing to show how bias the front office and head coaching jobs seemed to be.  There were also a series of threats of lawsuits pertaining to discrimination, although none were filed.

What are the strengths of the Rooney Rule?

The greatest attribute of the Rooney Rule is that it cleans the air of unconscious bias.  Many owners, and people responsible for hiring coaches in the NFL, are bias in their choices to hire a new coach and also to interview for new coaches.  The problem is that they do not realize they have this preconception.  As Brian Collins pointed out in 2007, there seems to be an “Unconscious Stereotype of Intellectual Inferiority” when it comes to minority candidates.  In other words, owners might not realize, or even recognize, their own biases of the minority group. Yet the prejudice still exists. This rule is aimed at eliminating this unfairness.

By removing the prejudice from the minds of the owners, the rule has been largely effective.  In January 2010, Smallwood pointed out that there are currently six teams that have minority head coaches, whereas there were only seven minority head coaches in the history of the league before the rule.  There is a slow progression in the increase of minority head coaches although it is very noticeable.

What are the weaknesses of the Rooney Rule?

Many teams read this rule and find a loophole.  The rule states that a minority candidate must be interviewed for the head coaching position when one opens up.  It says nothing about actually having to hire a minority coach.  In turn, this causes many teams to see this rule as somewhat of a joke.  In some cases, teams have an idea of who they want as their next coach and sometimes they even know who they will hire.  This happens even before the interview.  Yet they still need to abide by the Rooney Rule and so they interview someone without really considering them as a possible candidate.

Some would argue that this rule is reverse discrimination.  It seems to try and give an unfair advantage to minority candidates in search of a head coaching job.  It could be possible that the rule provides an upper hand to minorities while excluding the rights of the majority.