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NFL's Rooney Rule additions are a positive step forward, but more teeth needed

NFL's Rooney Rule additions are a positive step forward, but more teeth needed

Does the Rooney Rule work? – The Spectator

Punishment is a greater deterrent than reward.

You can argue that philosophical question in my Twitter mentions, but it's what I believe. And that's part of the reason Tuesday I'm glad to see the minority coaching incentive proposal fail and the Rooney Rule get strengthened.

But there's still something missing.

The Rooney Rule is the 17-year-old necessary tool that has helped the league reach its diversity height among coaches as recently as two years ago. But it's also been the rule that has been circumvented and made a mockery of regularly by team owners who show no interest in deviating from their plan at the head coach or general manager positions.

The NFL finds itself in this position because its group of team owners have, by majority, turned their backs on hiring minorities at the head coaching and general manager positions. And so now the league is forcing teams to interview more minorities for positions.

"Clubs will now be required to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach vacancies; at least one minority candidate for any of the three coordinator vacancies; and at least one external candidate for the senior football operations or general manager position," the league wrote in a statement. The Rooney Rule will also be applied to executive positions like team president and other senior-level front-office positions.

Additionally, teams will no longer be allowed to block assistant coaches from interviewing for coordinator positions with other teams. Assistants have (rightly) been griping about this for years, and lifting these restrictions should, in theory, help those minority candidates who have been spinning their wheels in the lower ranks.

"What the chairman (Art Rooney II) and the commissioner did today and what the ownership voted on today has been a fight for decades to get mobility that has disproportionately affected people of color," NFL EVP of football operations Troy Vincent said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. "Just the ability to get an interview, you don't get hired unless you have an interview. The mobility resolution today was significant [and] historic, because it has been a fight for decades. That's the foundation. Frankly, we would call that the linchpin of these inequalities. With these initiatives, the enhancement of the Rooney Rule which is a tool, it just allows us to have a broader scope of how we look at things."

Vincent went on to say that the league is better positioned today with centralized data to learn which teams do a better job at retaining women and people of color in their employ. Are people actually getting opportunities to advance with certain clubs? That sort of information can eventually be used to inform team owners of their shortcomings.

But that will take years. And what we have seen over the decades, and even still with the passage and strengthening of the Rooney Rule, are teams working the edges of the rule. They check the box and hire who they wish. Minority coaching hopefuls and executives have been telling reporters on and off the record for years about the sham interviews they did or did not take part in.

If there is a fear that what the league did Tuesday was simply add another hurdle for teams to clear before they again circumvent the rule, it'd be understood.

In 2003 when the Rooney Rule was introduced, it came with the warning that teams that did not adhere to the rule would face penalties of a fine up to loss of draft picks. In nearly two decades, only once has a team been dinged for working around the rule, and that cost the Detroit Lions just $200,000 and no draft picks.

What I believe is missing from Tuesday's developments are greater — or at least imposed — punishments. Team owners have learned that they can touch the stove and not get burnt. If some team owners were/are interested in rewarding draft picks for doing the right thing, should they not also be intrigued by stripping draft picks for not doing the right thing?

The incentive proposal was doomed to fail, and despite what league officials said on the Tuesday call, I can't see it ever getting resuscitated. "As long as production, expertise and leadership are footnoted with references to ethnicity, some entities within the NFL process may continue to feel justified in doubting its legitimacy," one coach of color told me over the weekend.

"The idea that the NFL might unearth the next example of leadership excellence through a more inclusive mindset, should be incentive enough," he continued

He nor I live in the fairy tale world that's regularly repeated by folks with bald eagles as their Twitter avatar. Hire the best person for the job. Well … of course.

Sweeping generalization here, but there is incompetence at every level of every company (other than this one) across America. The best person isn't hired for the job. You do get passed over by someone without your qualifications. It happens in the NFL and it happens in other sports leagues and it happens at your job and at your favorite department store.

To be frank (and fair), the NFL as a singular entity has done a good job with its minority hiring practices. The league office received high marks in its hiring of women and people of color in the most recent Racial and Gender Report Card, published last October.

But the NFL collective, made up of 32 individual businesses, is what must be dealt with here. Roger Goodell can't change the hiring wishes of individual billionaires, nor should he be in a position to demand who they hire anyway.

But he and the league can change their hiring practices, which is what's being done here with the Rooney Rule's augmentation. "The facts are we have a broken system," Vincent said bluntly.

I believe the league and its team owners should have gone a step further here and instituted — or showed an intention to implement — punishments for those who intend to keep the system broken.

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