It’s Time to Sack the Rooney Rule

By Dr. Eric M. Wallace

February is supposed to be the start of Black History Month, where we celebrate the part of American history that represents the Black community’s contribution to our nation. Unfortunately, this year, the month got off to a shaky start with a class-action suit, filed against the NFL and initiated by terminated coach Brian Flores, who is Black.

Flores asserts that the owner of the Miami Dolphins offered him money to throw games so that the team would have an opportunity to get a good first-round draft pick. Flores says that he verbally declined the owner's offer. Secondly, Flores states that interviews with the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos were sham interviews, especially in the case of New York, because they had already picked a (White) coach before he was ever interviewed. A text from Bill Belichick seems to confirm this allegation. In the case of the Denver Broncos interview, Flores asserts that the interviewers, who arrived an hour late to the interview, were seemingly disheveled and unprofessional. In other words, the "Rooney Rule" that requires teams to interview one ethnic minority in their process of finding a new coach or executive management was not really followed and, in essence, a "sham."

Since the lawsuit was filed, Black players and pundits from across the country have been piling on to declare how racist the NFL is. In fact, this "Amen chorus" comes from the same song sheet that heralds, “The league is 70% Black but only has one Black head coach;” and “The ratio of Black coaches to Black players is disproportionate.” They use this tripe to say that the NFL is racist.

However,  the NFL has done everything to prove otherwise. The very fact that 70% of the players in the NFL are Black means that the league is disproportionately Black. If anything, that would mean--according to those who believe disproportionality exposes racism--the NFL discriminates against White players. Where is the outrage over Blacks being overrepresented? Currently, the NFL has seven general managers who are Black. The Chicago Bears hired Ryan Poles as GM, and immediately he hired a White coach. So does that mean if you have a Black GM, you don't have to interview a Black coach? In fact, the GM of the Dolphins, the team that fired Brian Flores is Black. It has also been noted that 30% of the assistant coaches are Black.

So, help me understand how a league that is disproportionately Black (70%) with a disproportionate number of Black GMs (22%) and a disproportionate number of Black assistant coaches (over 30%) --who recently spent millions of dollars talking about inequality and pledged to give $250 million to social justice work is racist? Okay, there is only one Black NFL coach and one Black NFL team president, but at least, there are still vacancies to be filled. Again, Chicago could have hired a Black coach, but they didn't. Minnesota has a Black GM. If Minnesota doesn't hire a Black coach, will they be labeled as racist?1

Throughout NFL history, Blacks have been involved--from its inception. I love Tony Dungy and his open letter, but, I think it fell short a few decades as he spoke of Black participation. Some how Dungy left out all the Black players who played professional football in the 1920-1930s. Over 11 Black players were part of the league, like Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall. Pollard was the league’s first Black quarterback and Black coach.

It is thought that the proliferation of Black players in the early years caused White owners to conspire to shun Black players from 1933 to 1946, until Dan Reeves broke with the plot and began hiring Black players. It only takes one owner to open the floodgates like Branch Rickey opened up the stream for Black players like Jackie Robinson to enter Major League Baseball.

However, no other sport needed a “Rooney Rule” to hire Black coaches. Neither baseball nor basketball needed a rule to get owners to hire Black coaches--not even football if you include Pollard and the other coaches, including Dungy, who were hired before the “Rooney Rule” came into effect in 2003.

To Dungy’s point, there’s a lot of talent that has either been left on the sidelines or altogether excluded from football. But, that is true of White players and coaches and other minorities who don’t even play the game because of cultural differences. How many White assistant coaches have never been head coaches? How many White players have not been given a chance to play--or almost didn’t play? Look at Kurt Warner, who was overlooked but led a team to win the Superbowl by God's grace. Tom Brady, who was picked late in the draft, became the best quarterback statistically who ever played the game. And, Warren Moon took his talents to Canada and made a name for himself.

Please understand me. I have enjoyed pulling for Black quarterbacks and coaches in my 63 years. I was a Washington Redskins fan and a Joe Gibbs fan when Doug Williams led them to a Superbowl win. However, the league has a plethora of Black QBs, and it will have more Black coaches because, frankly owners want to win games and, ultimately, the Super Bowl.

When Branch Rickey broke the conspiracy against Black players in the MLB, other owners had to follow because they wanted the talent on their team. The same is true in basketball. In my opinion, the "Rooney Rule" is unnecessary. We had Black coaches before the rule and if there is any truth to the complaints about sham interviews, it can't be enforced anyway. Owners and GMs, Black and White, will hire whom they want to hire, and they will either win or lose their jobs based on those decisions. Coaches are judged on their performance and having a winning record is not good enough if the owner believes you have the talent to make it to the Super bowl. Ask Mike McCarthy of the Cowboys, who is under pressure to get Dallas past the first round.

Let me quote one of my heroes who said, “Equal opportunity does not mean equal results, despite how many laws and policies proceed as if it does, or how much fashionable rhetoric equates the two.”2

Lastly, to curtail the tanking of lousy football teams, one must remove the incentive to tank. I am sure that Black coaches aren't the only ones whose owners asked them to lose more games. If you remove the motivation, you remove the temptation, period.

[Dr. Eric Wallace is an African American scholar and the cofounder of Freedom’s Journal Institute (FJI), an Illinois-based nonprofit organization addressing contemporary social, political, and religious issues on behalf of African Americans. FJI’s mission is to "advance the Kingdom of God through sociopolitical education and engagement rooted in a Biblical Worldview." FJI vigorously challenges liberal ideology with conservative principles, essential to promote and sustain thriving families. He is also the host of FJI's flagship television program "Kingdoms in Konflict: A Matter of Faith, Race, and Public Policy" found on the NRBtv Network and other media platforms.]

________________
1. The Minnesota Vikings chose Kevin O’Connell, a White coach, as their head coach. The Texans chose former Bears head coach Lovie Smith who is Black, and The Dolphins chose Mike McDaniel who is biracial.
2.Thomas Sowell, Thomas Sowell Reader, page 136

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