The Rooney Rule resonates in unique ways within the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base due to the fact that its origins stem from the team’s late owner, Dan Rooney, and his desire to seek equality of opportunity and diversity within the game that he committed so much of his life to. That is, after all, why it ended up being named after him.
This offseason, his son, Art Rooney II, has been among those in the forefront of the discussion of revising the rule to make it more effective. Unprompted, he pushed for air time early this offseason on NFL Network to talk about the failures of the rule in recent years to increase diversity, and he has been the lead spokesman among owners about the current changes.
Yesterday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin—whom I feel it necessary to point out was not a ‘Rooney Rule hire’, since they had already interviewed Ron Rivera before interviewing him—was asked to comments on his thoughts about the proposed changes, particularly the idea of adding incentives to hiring or losing minority coaches and general managers.
“We’ve got to acknowledge first, in a blanket statement, that we have a problem with minority hiring specifically in football. But I guess there’s an issue in minority hiring in a lot of industries”, he told John Calipari, in an interview that as of this writing has not yet been posted to YouTube.
“Specifically with the Rooney Rule, we’re making some adjustments, because we’re acknowledging right now that the system is broken, that minorities are not getting enough opportunities, and we’re trying to just figure out how to stimulate that”, he added.
“There’s been a lot of discussion in recent days, particularly about incentivizing the minority-hiring process and people’s position regarding that. I agree it’s debatable about the value placed on an incentivized plan, but I just generally like the discussion”, he continued. “We’ve always taken it from the approach of punitive if you don’t interview minority candidates, or things of that nature. I just like the different approach in terms of spinning it 180 and talking about maybe incentivizing those that develop the talent and those that hire the talent”.
The owners chose to table a proposal earlier this month that would have improved a team’s third-round draft pick by six spots for hiring a minority head coach and 10 spots for hiring a minority general manager.
Other ideas that have been discussed include awarding teams compensatory draft picks if they lose a minority head coach by him being hired by another team, who I imagine this wouldn’t be comparable to players, in that if their contracts expire, they are not rewarded for his being hired elsewhere.
The idea of incentivizing the hiring of minorities to these power positions in the league has understandably been met with some debate, including by some prominent African American figures in the coaching world. It’s clear that the owners would like to come up with a more palatable alternative before presenting it again.
One thing that does make me chuckle is when people point out how relatively few players are white when speaking about diversity. The comical part about this is that it’s overwhelmingly white head coaches and general managers who are drafting and signing all the non-white players.