- Brian Flores said his interview with the New York Giants was a “sham” in a lawsuit accusing the NFL of racial discrimination.
- The Giants interview with Flores, a former Miami Dolphins head coach, was meant to comply with the NFL Rooney Rule.
- The Rooney Rule requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and general manager positions
Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores described his interview with the New York Giants for a head coaching position as a “sham” in a lawsuit accusing the NFL of racial discrimination.
The suit alleges that before interviewing Flores, the Giants had already made a decision to hire Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. And that meeting with Flores was merely meant to comply with the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and general manager positions.
The rule, the suit claims, is “not working because management is not doing the interviews in good faith. It creates a stigma that interviews of Black candidates are only being done to comply with the Rooney Rule rather than in recognition of the talents that the Black candidates possess.”
The rule goes beyond football. Former President Obama issued a call to action to technology companies in 2015, encouraging them to hire more women and minorities by implementing the Rooney Rule. Many companies in recent years have said they have adopted the rule to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
What is the Rooney Rule and why did it start?
In 2002, U.S. civil rights attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran released “Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities,” a report revealing how Black head coaches, despite having a better record of winning, were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired than their white counterparts.
Within two months, the league had formed a diversity committee, headed by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, and announced a diversity plan, which included the requirement in 2003 that each team interview at least one minority candidate prior to selecting a head coach. The requirement came to be known as the Rooney Rule.
The rule has evolved over time, with the NFL approving changes in 2021 requiring every team to interview at least two external minority candidates for open head coaching positions and at least one external minority candidate for a coordinator position. It also requires that a woman be interviewed for every business front-office position that opens in the league.
What is the goal of the NFL diversity rule?
The rule helps keep the fact that diversity could exist in every field and at every level “top of mind,” says Pamela Newkirk, the author of “Diversity Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business.”
“It was created in the first place because there was this acute underrepresentation of diversity in the NFL leadership,” she says. “So you had a league where almost 70% of the players were of color with very few people of color in top positions.”
But she points out that while the rule requires a company or organization to include a diverse field of candidates, it’s doesn’t require them to hire them.
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What effect did the NFL’s hiring rule have?
At the beginning of the 2006 season, the overall percentage of Black coaches had jumped to 22%, up from 6% prior to the Rooney Rule.
But the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s 2021 racial and gender report card found that Black or African-Americans in head coaching positions dropped to 9.4% in 2019 from 22% in 2018. The percentage of Black or African-American head coaches remained at 9.4% for both the 2020 and 2021 NFL seasons. As of today, among the 32 head coach positions, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the only Black head coach in the NFL. The league also has two other minority head coaches. The percentage of Black or African-American players stood at 58% in 2021.
A rule is only as good as the intention of the leadership to actually realize diversity, says Newkirk.
“It can help an institution address the problem, but they have to continue to ensure that they don’t fall back on the same kind of customs and practices that allowed them to not have diversity in the first place,” she says. “It can work but it requires vigilance.”
Can other industries learn from the Rooney Rule?
Nicole Sanchez, founder of Vaya Consulting, who has been advising companies on diversity and inclusion initiatives for 28 years, says an increasing number of organizations in the past two years have been keen to roll out some version of the Rooney Rule.
The problem with the rule is that it sets the bar too low and has been implemented poorly in all kinds of industries, she says.
“It’s so easy to game that system,” she says. “How it works often is someone goes, ‘Great. I talked to a Black guy, we’re done.’ The question ends up becoming how sincere was that effort.”
The more helpful approach is to look at anonymized demographic data and help hiring managers make good decisions without proactively (in the interviews) considering people’s backgrounds.
“So it’s a little more complicated of a system with the same desire to make sure that people from underrepresented backgrounds are strongly considered all the way through a fair and standardized job application process,” she says.
Companies should look to strengthen their pipeline of diverse applicants by either promoting from within or by hiring from outside, she says.
Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy is the housing and economy reporter for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter @SwapnaVenugopal