DeMaurice Smith has one more piece of business that he wants to accomplish before he leaves his position as NFL Players Association executive director. He wants to eliminate the Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule was put in place in 2003 to enhance diversity in the hiring process for key positions in the league, but Smith and Carl Lasker, a Yale law student and teaching assistant to Smith, believe that the Rooney Rule has failed to serve its purpose.
“The NFL’s system is broken,” Smith and Lasker wrote, via Yahoo Sports, who obtained the 100-page paper. “To fix it, owners need to abandon the Rooney Rule and replace their unchecked discretion with comprehensive requirements to eliminate discrimination, ensure fairness, improve diversity and build an equitable, transparent and accountable system.”
Smith and Lasker also viewed the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action no longer being used in private and public colleges across the country as something that could impact the NFL in the future.
The number of Black head coaches was two when the Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003. The number is just three heading into the 2023 season — the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Todd Bowles and the Houston Texans’ DeMeco Ryans, who was hired this offseason. The Miami Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel, who identifies as biracial, the Washington Commanders Ron Rivera (Latino) and the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh (Lebanese-American) are the three other minority head coaches in the NFL.
The Rooney Rule was implemented in good faith, but it’s been often criticized over the last 20 years. A lot of Black head coaches have felt like they were just a token interview or a checking-a-box requirement for owners.
Smith and Lasker made 12 recommendations about how the league should abolish the Rooney Rule. They included elimination of the “check-the-box” hiring protocols, no longer requiring prospective coaching candidates to request permission to apply for jobs with other teams, a periodic audit of team hiring processes by an outside council a league-wide job descriptions and contracts created by the league’s chief diversity officer, a strict and significant punishment for teams that fail to abide by the league’s diversity hiring recommendations, a uniform and consistent evaluation guidelines for all coaching, senior and executive positions, every coaching, senior and executive position be posted and held open for at least 30 days and that the NFL should not oppose the unionizing of head or assistant coaches.
“The system is broken from the inside out and outside, and any effort to affect it that didn’t obligate NFL owners to adherence or reform was doomed from the start,” Smith told Yahoo Sports.
Smith and Lasker also cited an NFLPA survey from last year that stated 92% of minority coaches believe more transparency was needed in the hiring process for head coaches, 90% believe race plays a role in coaching hires and 90% said “federal statutes prohibiting discrimination are not observed or obeyed in hiring practices.”
In the aftermath of former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores’ lawsuit accusing the NFL and three of its franchises of racist hiring practices, Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II released a statement highlighting all that the Rooney Rule has done.
“Over the past several years, our Diversity Committee has recommended, and Ownership has adopted, a number of enhancements to the Rooney Rule as well as new policies designed to ensure that women and minorities are receiving full and fair consideration for coaching and front office positions,” Rooney said.
The league adopted amendments to the Rooney Rule during the 2020 offseason requiring teams to interview at least two minority candidates for head coaching vacancies, one for open coordinator jobs. Clubs are also required to interview at least one minority candidate for senior-level management positions as well.
Rooney vowed that the league will continue to be proactive in ensuring diversity in hiring decisions.
“The Commissioner and League Executives, as well as the Diversity Committee, remain committed to working with all clubs, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, and others in making these efforts as effective as possible and building upon them to promote the desired impacts on hiring decisions in the League at all levels, including Head Coaching positions,” Rooney said.