the rooney rule
Courtesy: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Rooney Rule: Is the NFL a Glass Shield in 2020?


There are no guidelines on how many minority players each NFL team can draft each year or how many minority players they can have on the field at one time.


Photo Credit: Miami Dolphins

Yet, there is a requirement for teams to interview at least two minority candidates from outside of their organization for unfilled head-coaching positions and at least one minority applicant from outside of their organization for a coordinator position. This issue has raised some eyebrows in the NFL, but it’s also given minorities a sigh of relief and a hope for their future.

There remains a concern of equal diversity in the hierarchy of coaches and owners. Do minorities genuinely have the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder in the league’s headquarters? Or is the hiring of minorities to leadership positions a sudden concern given the fact that the media has put pressure on this issue? 

The Rooney Rule, named after previous Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney who passed away in 2017, originated in 2003. The rule was established to promote diversity and inclusion in the NFL, but three years after it was implemented, there was only a small increase in minority hiring in the NFL. The small change consisted of hiring just two black head coaches in the entire league. The “Rooney Rule” required teams to interview at least one ethnic-minority applicant for head coaching positions.


The “Rooney Rule” has sparked even more debate this offseason as league evaluators have taken a close look at the hiring and firing trends in the past few years.


Currently, the league has two minority general managers and four minority head coaches. Chris Grier, general manager of the Miami Dolphins, was promoted to GM after investing the previous nine years as the Dolphins team director of college scouting. Andrew Berry, the general manager and executive VP of the Cleveland Browns, has luckily secured his leadership role in the organization serving as the youngest GM in the NFL

Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports

The four minority head coaches include Anthony Lynn, who is the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brian Flores, head coach of the Miami Dolphins, and Ron Rivera of the Washington Redskins. What these coaches and general managers have in common is that they all have a background in the NFL, universal familiarity, experience, knowledge, and have taken on other leadership roles before promotions.

The league composed several theories to help aid the diversity of leadership roles. NFL owners examined methods for fixing the shortage of minority coaching and front office jobs in the NFL. The proposal includes rewarding teams draft compensation for hiring minority candidates. In my opinion, this idea had a glass shield from the beginning.

If a team hired a minority head coach, they would ultimately gain a six-spot increase in their 3rd round draft pick. If the team hired a minority general manager, the team’s 3rd round pick would boost up ten spots. If the team hired both a minority general manager and a head coach, that team’s 3rd round draft spot would increase to a total of 16 places. 


The league has examined how compensating teams to hire minorities could potentially impact the NFL reputation and land the league in hot water.


See what I mean by glass shield? Commissioner Roger Goodell, who held a conference call with league owners last Tuesday, seems to believe that the proposition had a fair amount of support. Still, there are suggestions and amendments that the league will discuss and examine with other entities to ensure the quality of the idea of awarding compensation to teams. Goodell stated, “It was a very positive reaction and one that will lead to additional initiatives that we will be able to implement.” Um… yeah. Glass Shield.

The overall purpose of the idea was to create positive encouragement for organizations rather than a negative disadvantage for teams. This suggestion has provoked several disapproving reactions in the media. Goodell acknowledges that the league can do a better job in focusing on implementing change to the Rooney Rule. No vote was elected on the owner’s conference call in regards to compensation for minority hires, but the idea could be considered at a later date.

The “Rooney Rule has also become more effective in making it a requirement for teams and the upfront office to interview not only minorities but female applicants for high command positions such as team president and other senior executive positions throughout the league. 

The NFL made changes to its anti-tampering policy, creating a system that prohibits a team from refusing to hire minority coaches. Teams are required to submit a flow chart of a complete description of the coach’s obligations and the commissioner will resolve any conflict of interest. The league has discovered a smart plan of action by requiring each of the 32 teams to construct a minority coaching fellowship program that will ultimately aid coaches and provide interactive training in NFL coaching. This proposal will not only benefit coaches, but it will create a greater range of candidates with the necessary qualifications. This program will consist of minorities, female delegates, and NFL legends.


Coaching diversity has been a hot topic in the NFL during the COVID-19 global pandemic and may awake the issues to other sports leagues around the world.


Photo Credit: NFL

Only time will tell whether the new Rooney Rule implementations will affect minority/women hiring in the NFLArt Rooney II, Steelers owner, and son of Dan Rooney is the committee chairman. Rooney states, “The development of young coaches and young executives is a key to our future. These steps will assure coaching and football personnel are afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to advance throughout our football operations.”

The NFL is comprised of players from all walks of life. Minorities make up the majority of the league. Exploring diversity and inclusion to create a workplace that reflects the league itself should be the goal ultimately. The Rule needs some fine-tuning, but it had to start somewhere. Minorities and women around the world should have a fair shot at pursuing their dream jobs in the NFL. In time, the hope is that The Rooney Rule will innovate and diversify the league’s front offices as much as a great OC can do for your offense… ????



-Nyshon Zaragoza – Franchise Sports Media


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