GSM Live Insights: How The NFL Moves Forward
In February 2021, the Global Sport Institute expanded research on its National Football League head coach hiring field study since the inception of the Rooney Rule in 2003. The trends show that although there have been more coaches of color in head coach positions over the years, there is still a disproportionate number of White head coaches across the league, despite initiatives like the Rooney Rule which strives to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hiring process. In GSM Live: How The NFL Moves Forward, NFL experts discuss the impact of the Rooney Rule, how to hold owners accountable, and the future of the league.
Kenneth Shropshire hosts this insightful discussion with Jim Rooney, Ray Anderson, N. Jeremi Duru, Doug Williams, Esé Ighedosa, Rod Graves, and Rachel Lofton.
“My father did a good job with this and folks who will remain nameless hide behind his good work.”
Jim Rooney is the son of Dan Rooney, the former Pittsburgh Steelers owner whom the Rooney Rule is named after. In his new book, A Different Way to Win, he describes the leadership, legacy, and integrity of his father who worked towards transforming the NFL and creating a diverse, inclusive environment.
“This cannot be a process whereby it’s to be token interviews and token attempts. And the promise was made that this would be real.”
Ray Anderson, vice president of University Athletics at Arizona State University, emphasizes that the lack of Black coaches in the NFL indicates that many of the interviews happening under the Rooney Rule are superficial. This misuse of the rule is on the owners, who need to be held accountable and make intentional efforts to create an equitable hiring process.
“I think the fault lies at the feet of the owners.”
N. Jeremi Duru is a professor of law at American University and the author of Advancing the Ball. He points out that the Rooney Rule was written under the assumption that all of the owners would be rational and committed to upholding it. This has not been the case, and the owners have contributed directly to the abysmal hiring trends in the NFL.
“Don’t come back and say a candidate had a bad interview when nobody of color is in the room doing the interview to come back and say ‘that’s not true.’”
Doug Williams is the a former NFL Quarterback and Super Bowl XXII champion who was recently appointed as the senior adviser to the Washington Football Team president Jason Wright. He says that owners and executives are making far too many excuses for the lack of coaches of color. It’s not that there aren’t any qualified candidates, it’s that no one will give them a fair chance.
“I was someone that wanted to believe that it’s just unconscious bias…but at some point it seems really intentional.”
Esé Ighedosa is the president of House of Athlete, a lifestyle and wellness brand. She also co-founded and co-chaired the NFL’s Black Engagement Network (BEN). She states that NFL hiring practices are often reduced to a matter of “unconscious bias” and “comfortability,” when really it is always explicit bias. It will take collaboration between athletes and fans to put pressure on the owners and hold them to a higher standard.
“The NFL has been around for 100 years, it’s a billion dollar business, and we’re still facing this problem that is an age-old problem and it’s simply because the owners have not made it a priority.”
Rod Graves is executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation and former senior vice president of Football Administration for the New York Jets. He emphasizes how the secrecy of owners’ decision-making and the league’s “emblematic signs” of progress are preventing real change from taking place. There needs to be an intervention, and the league needs to be held accountable by athletes, fans, media outlets, sponsors, and potentially the government.
“It’s going to be White people in power that are going to be the changemakers…and they need to keep their peers accountable.”
Rachel Lofton is the co-author of the Global Sport Institute Field Study: NFL Head Coach Hiring and Pathways in the Rooney Rule Era. She states that even though there needs to be external pressure placed on the league and owners, change is only possible when those in power honestly take responsibility, hold their peers accountable, and uphold diversity, equity, and inclusion in their hiring practices and beyond.
From the Global Sport Institute Research Lab comes an in-depth look at the hiring and firing trends within the National Football League’s head coaching positions by race since the inception of the Rooney Rule in 2003. This new data examines the pipeline to head coach and sheds light on the real impact the Rooney Rule has had for coaches of color in the highest levels of sport.
Global Sport Matters Live brought together academics and current and former NFL executives who have studied and experienced the Rooney Rule to examine why disparity remains in coaching positions for coaches of color and how the NFL moves forward.