On February 1st, 2022, former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the National Football League alleging racist hiring procedures resulting in him not being seriously considered for a number of coaching vacancies. How is this possible? The NFL has policies in place to prevent this exact situation. The NFL is a predominantly black league, with many outstanding players and minds being black. Does the NFL’s Rooney Rule work?
In 2003 the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in order to give people of colour more of a fair opportunity. It originally required every team to interview at least one minority candidate to fill all of its coaching positions. In the Flores lawsuit, he alleges that the New York Giants scheduled him for an interview although their mind was made up that they were hiring Brian Daboll. He accuses the Giants that they only used him to check a box and ensure their hiring was compliant with the rules. Flores received a congratulation message from his mentor Bill Bellichick but in fact, the message was destined for Brian Daboll. Flores hadn’t gone in for the interview yet. The Rooney rule ensures that minorities get interviews during the hiring process for any coaching vacancy but even the rule can’t stop unfair treatment.
The NFL has 32 head coaching positions in the league, only 4 of them are held by Black coaches, despite the NFL acknowledging that close to 60% of the active players in the league are Black. The data is actually quite puzzling.
When looking at the average length of each coaches' tenure, Black head coaches since 2003 have averaged around 58 games coached, while white coaches averaged around 66 games coached. Both average just under four full seasons coached before they part ways with their teams, except for non-Black coaches lasting for over half a season more in comparison to Black coaches since 2003. The win percentages are similar, but since 2003 the NFL has seen 140 white/non-minority head coaches and only 36 Black head coaches coach a minimum of 5 games.
The data seems to illustrate that black coaches not only have less odds of getting a job compared to white coaches, but it also shows a significant discrepancy in how long these jobs are held. The Rooney rule was implemented to create opportunity, however, that doesn’t seem to be happening.
This lawsuit affects people all over. Many Black coaches from smaller organizations are keeping an eye on Flores's fight.
Coach Paul Blackwood, a former CFL player, started coaching after his playing days were over. He’s been coaching for 15 years now at WA Porter. He sees a problem in the rule and it's not all the way honest. “I think they use it as a smokescreen to say… Hey, I’m bringing a minority in, check it off as some sort of check box. The real work hasn’t been done yet, it’s more or less I’m doing this because I have to do this… They’ll continue to bring in people to interview but they also have an alternative motive as they already have people in mind that they want to hire. He is not necessarily the best person but mostly he looks like me so I’m more comfortable hiring this person.”
Although the existence of the rule is common knowledge to many, the perception of it isn’t necessarily a positive one. The NFL has looked to mend this by altering it for hirings made during and following the 2022 season. Each team will have to interview two black people and two women for every prominent staff role within the organization. Coach Bubba Allen, who’s been coaching at Agincourt Collegiate Institute for over a decade, is all for fair treatment and is the best candidate to get the job. He’s not biased to any race, but he believes there should a full evaluation.”I don’t care what colour you are if you are more qualified for the job… You should get the job. But clearly the Rooneys they’re great people, they saw something which was a flaw in the system and they try to say at least give an opportunity, at least an interview.”
The Rooney rule will continue to be a topic of discussion for years to come. There is a clear discrepancy in the amount of opportunity for Black and white coaches, as the NFL works to support more diversity among its coaching staff.
To take a look at our video data analysis click the box below: