As I stated in my January 8, 2014 column, “The Rooney Rule is dead”: “This is not about Affirmative Action; this is about affirmative discrimination. With 65 percent of players being African American and most coaches being former players, statistically, all things being equal, to get the best of the best you would have at least 20 Black head coaches.”
Statistically the NFL numbers reflect discrimination. The real number that counts is how few entry-level Black coaches are hired who can then compete to move up. Closing the beginning of the coaching pipeline guarantees fewer qualified for the coordinator-to-head coach move.
The spiteful myth continues: “Blacks can play and entertain us, but they are not smart enough to provide leadership and inspiration,” just as they used to say when asked why they didn’t put Blacks at quarterback. The well-intended “Rooney Rule” (named after the late owner of the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers) of the NFL (“wherever there is a head coaching or general manager vacancy, at least one of those interviewed must be an African American”) provides the “truth” of saying “we tried,” that in turn provides cover for the lie that Black candidates are not hired because they “proved” in the interviews that they were not good enough.
The Rooney Rule was inspired by the 2002 firings of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy and Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green. A subsequent study showed that “Black head coaches, despite winning a higher percentage of games, were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired than their White counterparts.”
When Pittsburgh and Cincinnati played January 9, 2016, half of the four then-current NFL Black coaches were facing off against each other: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin vs. Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis. The other two NFL Black head coaches were the Detroit Lions’ Jim Caldwell and the New York Jets’ Todd Bowles. Since then, Hugh Jackson, former African American head coach of the NFL Raider has been hired as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. That makes five Black head coaches. We’ll see if that number rises or falls after all the vacancies are filled.
And yet across the many news outlets and sports networks, there have been few if any discussions about the shrinking number of Black head coaches in the NFL, most of whom are former players in a league that is at least 65 percent African American. The Rooney Rule is an insult to African Americans. The NFL’s Gentlemen’s Agreement to retool and recycle White coaches combined with purposely hiring few Blacks to be either offensive or defensive coordinators, the major candidate pool for new head coaches, purposefully reduces the fair opportunity for African Americans to be considered as head coaches. Similar obstacles have so far purposefully stalled Black ownership.
The White Gentlemen’s Rooney Rule Club views African Americans as field-hand jokes, not house managers, which makes the NFL home to the most lucrative plantations in the country, condescendingly telling African Americans they should be appreciative that they are paid so well to work in the NFL plantations.
Major League Baseball hires light-skinned Latin players, while the NBA hires Europeans to play. But it is the NFL, the most lucrative of all of the plantations, that is so openly disrespectful of African American players.
I recall discussions in the 1950s regarding breaking color barriers that were subtly re-imposed later. Unless the Rooney Rule becomes more than a public relations ploy, we are on course to return to when there were no African American NFL head coaches.
Well-paid Black players, wanting to stay in football, especially as coaches, too often stifle their tenaciousness and their consciences and remain quiet about this discrimination. As often happens, potential leaders for ending this discrimination are pressured to not do so, comforting themselves with “at least they got theirs.”
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