The Rooney Rule: A Case for Affirmative Action in Institutions

With the Super Bowl complete, I have been impressed with the lack of conversations regarding Mike Tomlin’s race. In many ways, I am not surprised now that black American head coaches have represented a total of five teams in the Super Bowl over the past four years. Of course, Tomlin coached two of those teams. As an ardent defender and supporter of affirmative action, I am amazed at how many people fail to realize that Tomlin is a product of such a system. Tomlin, though clearly qualified, was granted a “chance” to be a coach thanks to the Rooney Rule — a policy similar to that of affirmative action.

It was President Lydon B. Johnson that instituted affirmative action legislation via an Executive Order to cut back on discrimination. Much of this policy was aimed to provide opportunities for both women and minority populations. It should not come as a surprise that those who oppose affirmative action the most…are those that will power. And hence, seek to protect such power. Liberal defenders of affirmative action have long noted that white heterosexual males are the greatest critics of affirmative action programs. Many, who are self-described conservative Republicans, find that any type of programs engineered by the federal government, works against the will of the people. That will, of course, notes that state and local governments should make such decisions; yet, it was in part implemented to limit the degree of discrimination at the state level. Conservative Christians operate off a notion of color-blindness. Some will tell you that Jesus Christ does not see race, thus nor should American society. But in the end, it seems almost racist to deny that different races exist, and that one’s race can and does depict his/her plight. Christ, of course, often noted the plight of both Jews and Gentiles.

While various different groups argue that affirmative action is reverse discrimination, liberal advocates believe that it promotes a more egalitarian society. Tomlin is a great example. The National Football League, for a long period of time, had been the target of racists arguments (i.e., being accused). Organizations such as the NAACP pointed to the fact that black players were a dominant reason for the success of the NFL, but blacks could not be found in key front office positions or as head coaches. Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chair of the NFL’s diversity committee, enacted the Rooney Rule. This rule states that all NLF teams must interview at least one minority candidate when a vacancy is available. Unfortunately, many teams do not adhere to this policy. Dan Rooney clearly made a great call with Tomlin. Maybe other institutions will follow the Steelers in actively seeking to promote diversity.It would be nice to see all institutions operate this way. In the end, maybe many institutions would reflect what the world looks like.

But, diversity is not simple. As noted before by Pearl Kane and Alfonso Orsini’s work, The Colors of Excellence:

People of color, be they African-American, Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern or whatever ethnic group, have spent years discovering their roots, developing a keen pride in their heritage, and accepting who they are. So don’t expect the current crop of prospective faculty to fit into your conservative profile. Many of them will not, and, frankly, I don’t think they should even try! Is that shocking? Is that unacceptable to you and your clientele? Then, perhaps, diversity is really not for you. If a turban or a dashiki pants suit offends, then so will diversity! Diversity by definition implies that the status quo will be upset.


9 thoughts on “The Rooney Rule: A Case for Affirmative Action in Institutions

  1. Was Tomlin hired because he was the most qualified or because the Steelers had to interview at least one minority candidate? Would he have been interviewed without this rule or is the Steelers organization filled with a bunch of racists who would rather sacrifice the team’s success than hire a black man in a head coaching position? As a pro football organization that is driven by winning, I would say they would want to interview and hire whoever the best man for the job was, regardless of his skin color. Same for the rest of the NFL. This rule strikes me as completely unnecessary on those grounds alone.

    Yet, this Rooney Rule, and affirmative action programs in general, always leave the argument open that one was hired simply because of one’s skin color. Not to mention making the tacit implication that anyone in a hiring position would not be capable of hiring or interviewing a minority candidate if not for rules such as this. But then, as you point out, it is all about intentions, the hallmark of most liberal policies. Let’s work against racial discrimination, but promoting racial discrimination! But that’s okay because we are making up for past discrimination! Doesn’t seem all that logically consistent to me. At least in this case, the rule was instituted by a private organization and not by the government. The NFL is certainly free to have as many diversity committees and rules as they want, regardless of how inane they may be.

  2. Brandon:

    There is no real way to be diplomatic here. As one that studies and teaches courses on the impact of race and economics in society at a New England University, I must say that your argument is a bit emotional. For one, the league (NFL) does not operate in a monopoly like fashion, but each team must adhere to a uniformed policy in order to protect and promote the brand of the league, not that of each team. If that were the case, we would have a number of teams promoting its own interest. The Rooney Rule states that teams must at least interview a minority candidate. This way each person is better prepared and has a greater understanding of the process and what is expected. No team nor organization desires to hire unskilled people. This policy does not say you must hire a minority, nor does affirmative action.

    This does not promote discrimination. The NFL is about making money. Teams are about making money. In the end, blacks have done a great job in the NFL. They get hired and fired, jut like white people. What is wrong with having a diversity committee? I sit on one on my campus. I am shocked at the lack of understanding people who hire have about the population of people they are hiring. It is crazy.

  3. I disagree with your assessment that my argument is a bit emotional when I stated that the rule itself seemed completely unnecessary given that the NFL/teams are driven by winning and making money, so why would they act against their own self-interest and pass on interviewing and/or hiring qualified minority candidates?

    The problem with rules such as this is that there is a tacit implication that there is some form of discrimination taking place, otherwise there would be more minority coaches, therefore we need this rule to ensure that at least a minority candidate is interviewed. A rule is present to fix or prevent some kind of problem, otherwise why have it?

    I understand that the rule does not say you have to hire a minority but it continues to perpetrate the idea that racism is lurking around every corner and is the explanation for why a given minority population isn’t properly “represented” in some given area of life, in this case, in the number of NFL head coaches.

  4. Diminishing racism may have allowed the hiring of black coaches, but racism certainly exists. More broadly speaking, racial and gender inequality undeniably persists, necessitating some public policy favoring affirmative action laws and diversity efforts by the public and private sectors. The government, which has discriminated for years (do not ask, do not tell), can safe guard the plight of groups in the public sector. The NFL, in many ways, had to move in a direction to assure the public that it too was not full of lip service like the government. My fear is that other organizations see diversity as a non issue. Too many people think there is no need for this conversation in the 21st century.

    The Rooney Rule, if anything else, allows minority candidates to go through the process. I have interviewed for jobs in which I would have been a great fit. We all have. But, at times there were things I was not ready for in the process that through me off. Organizations must look around and ask, “how can we have a greater impact on society.”

  5. Good point about the public relations aspect, Ed. Good point about it being a learning process, Jaylon. There was indeed a time when it was a bit awkward that there were so many black athletes in the NFL but very few minority coaches and managers. The Rooney Rule was a set of training wheels put on the NFL’s hiring practices to (A) show the public that the NFL was learning and (B) to set up some blind dates between owners and minorities so that both might be enriched (and maybe even surprised) by the results.

    Now, where I agree with Brandon is that some point the training wheels must come off. Are we there yet? I would have been more sure of saying “yes” except for an article I read yesterday where the Dolphins had interviewed Mike Tomlin (noted in Ed’s piece above) and determined he was too “hip hop” for what they were looking for. It’s hard to imagine Tomlin having as much success in Miami as he has had in Pittsburgh due to the great players he inherited with the Steelers, but it’s also clear that whatever direction(s) Miami has gone in after passing on Tomlin has not been successful either.

    By and large, however, we are getting close to reaching a tipping point. We’ve had three black Super Bowl coaches recently, with some strong contenders rising in Tampa Bay and Minnesota. The culture is getting better about race with each generation to where coaches of all colors are being judged on their talents and not on their skin. Why would future minority coaches want even the whiff of a suggestion that the only reason they got the job was because they had a bit of an advantage in getting an interview? Now we have owners who clearly know who they want to hire (see Garrett, Jason) but are compelled to hold token interviews with people they have no intention of hiring. Yes, it’s a learning experience for everyone, but from a personal pride standpoint it rubs me the wrong way.

    The NFL is a business, but it’s a bit of an odd one. Much of the ownership is white with decades of family ownership. Practices become ingrained. Some owners are on the cutting edge and willing to learn. Others seem to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Some of those hapless teams have hired black coaches (to their credit). My point is that while one would think the owners would make moves to make their teams as successful and as profitable as possible, some seem incompetent at the task. Sometimes it’s player moves, but sometimes it is poor hiring practices with coaches and managers.

    I think the Rooney Rule has been a positive thing for the NFL, but if it is still in place twenty years from now I’ll be disappointed (like watching one’s 20-year old son riding down the street with training wheels on his bicycle).

  6. Great comment MattS. I think you have pointed out a number of interesting points. For one, it is an organizational matter. Put Tomlin with the Redskins and he is already looking for a job. Stability of any organization is important. Now, Tampa was a joke for ever, until Dungey turned that place around. Sad to say, he was let go a year too early. Morris has turned out to be a great hire in Tampa, considering they were ready to fire him a year ago. But, in the NFL, it is a numbers game. In my neck of the woods, people are starting to say that the Patriots are done. Time for a new coach. Can you believe that. Of course, this is a very small minority.

    As for the hip hop thing, I did not know that. But this is why diversity committees are so important when making decisions. I am thinking that what Miami took as hip hop or being too black, was really a cultural difference. Much like what Carson stated about diversity, it is what it is. Either you accept what others have to offer, or you continue to reject that people are different, though they support your organization.

  7. Some of it might be race-cultural, but some of it is age-cultural. There has been somewhat of a youth movement in the NFL coaching system lately, with a lot of guys 35 years old or less being given the reigns. There are old-school NFL types interviewing these “kids” and not knowing whether they’d be jumping on an exploding rocket or jumping on a lightning bolt to success. What seems like hip hop to some old-fogeys could be an extremely approachable coaching style to the players. I’d probably have had a hard time hiring Rex Ryan as a coach because of his bombastic coaching style. Shoot, he won a title with the Ravens as defensive coordinator and even they passed him over for head coach. Now that I’ve seen him for a few years as a head coach with the Jets and hear how much his player love to play for him, it has given me pause on what makes a good football general. Growing up with the Tom Landrys, the Joe Gibbs, the Mike Holmgrens, and the Bill Walshes, a Rex Ryan blows up the mold. Tomlin doesn’t fit the old mold either, but both are very good team leaders. It’s an interesting shift in coaching philosophy that owners are going to have to consider.

    Wade Phillips was a great coach and the players liked him, but there seemed to be a lack of focus or fear by the players. Rex Ryan and Mike Tomlin seem to have both their players respect and admiration. Hmmm… I actually do recall one young coach way back for the Raiders that had some of that tough love vibe: John Madden.

  8. Not a Rex Ryan person. That does not work for me. You have a great point with the youth matter. Interesting point: Matt S, you mentioned the hip hop thing and Tomlin. This approach to generate a cool youth shift in the NBA has not worked in that the NBA is back tracking on it. This topic is not really an issue in the NBA. But I think the subject of you and diversity is very interesting.

    As for a shift in guard, I agree. We are seeing that. Tomlin just seems like a Rooney man.

  9. “Awesome read Brother. Not surprisingly, not much was spoken of about Tomlin at all during the SB telecast. I thought that Mike should have been the NFL coach of the year considering that he lost his starting QB or the first 4 games this season.”

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