Musings

Discrimination and the NFL: Going beyond the Rooney Rule

I know what you’re thinking, “Oh no, here’s another white guy talking about discrimination and sharing how woke he is.” And you’re right. I am discussing race in the NFL and I am perfectly fine if someone thinks I’m “woke.” Although, I don’t believe I am woke, because I still have far to go. But I will not apologize for distributing my opinions on injustice. Minorities should not be the only people carrying the torch to shed light on issues surrounding race and inequality. We (white folks) should assist our brothers and sisters (speaking on the Christian concept we are all brothers and sisters) in changing culture in society and within the workplace.

 
So here we go…
 
Over the past 20 head coaching vacancies in the NFL, only 3 minorities have been selected to be the face of the organization. There are only 4 minority head coaches in the NFL (Ron Rivera, Anthony Lynn, Mike Tomlin, and Brian Flores). Out of 32 teams, only one team has a minority General (Baltimore). 70% of the NFL players are minorities. Numbers don’t discriminate. There is a problem.
 
After 2019-2020’s regular season, 5 NFL teams had coaching vacancies. They were the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, and Washington Redskins. Cleveland hired Kevin Stefanski, an offensive coordinator from Minnesota. The Giants hired Joe Judge, a special teams coordinator and wide receiver coach from New England. Dallas hired former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. Carolina Panthers hired Baylor University head football coach Matt Rhule. Washington hired Ron Rivera, the former head coach from the Carolina Panthers. Ron Rivera is the only minority hired and the rest of the coaches are white.
 
In 2003, the Rooney Rule was established and stated that each NFL team must interview at least one minority candidate to be the head coach. The rule was named after Dan Rooney, a former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chaired the NFL’s diversity committee. That’s right, a rule that that makes teams interview a minority candidate was named after a white owner. Anyway… The teams that had openings at the end of the season did just that and interviewed at least one minority. Washington interviewed Riviera and hired him. Cleveland interviewed Eric Bieniemy (OC from Kansas City) and Robert Saleh (DC from San Francisco). Dallas interviewed former Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis. New York interviewed Bieniemy and Dallas passing game coordinator Kris Richard. Carolina interviewed interim head coach Perry Fewell. Bieniemy and Saleh have proven themselves to be great coordinators and have turned their teams into Super Bowl contenders. Perry Fewell took over Carolina duties after Ron Rivera was fired and appeared to have the ear and respect of his team. Marvin Lewis coached a cheap Cincinnati Bengals team for 16 years and had a record of 131-122 and 7 playoff appearances.
 
Before Cleveland chose Kevin Stefanski to be the head coach, I was hoping the Browns would choose Robert Saleh. Coach Saleh is exciting to watch as he patrols the sidelines for the 49ers and shouts plays and support to his team. Just watching him is inspiring. His players respect him and look like they will run through the proverbial brick wall for him. He was what I believed the Browns needed to install respect, passion, and guidance. I also felt his story would be encouraging for the Arab American community. I would have also loved to see Eric Bieniemy mastering The Brown’s NFL plays after watching him piece together one of the greatest offenses the NFL has ever seen in Kansas City. Yet, both coaches will be back as their team’s coordinators at the start of 2020.
 
More than being disappointed that my team didn’t get one of those exciting coaches, I’m disappointed for the African American community and other minorities. I’m disappointed for the NFL players. Now Stefanski, Judge, McCarthy, and Rhule might be fantastic head coaches, but repeatedly, minority coaches are not getting the opportunities that white coaches receive. It might be owners are going by the age-old tradition of hiring who you know rather than looking beyond biases. It happens privately in the workplace and it appears to be publicly happening in the NFL. Diversity is good for the workplace, society, and to be the face of sports teams. I remember when I was a kid and seeing Doug Williams quarterback the Washington Redskins and many people believed that African Americans couldn’t lead a team.  Williams proved them wrong and the 2019-2020 season is further proof we’ve come a long way since those archaic beliefs. It’s time the NFL and its fans believe the same about coaches. There will be head coach vacancies after the 2020-2021 season. Hopefully, the NFL will be making an effort to go beyond the Rooney Rule and not only interview a minority candidate, but hire him. NFL, you can do better. And while you’re at it, place more minorities in the front office. One general manager? That’s disgraceful.

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