The Rooney Ruse — NFL pays lip service to diversity hiring

The annual NFL league meetings that began Sunday are now over. Among the discussed topics were several playing rules, such as what is and isn’t a catch.

Executive Vice President Troy Vincent said on last week’s media conference call that he and other officials began meeting a week after the Super Bowl to hear proposals from teams. “We began a recap of the 2017 season,” he recalled. “There are four or five items that we recap, the obvious was catch-no catch…just clarifying on how we officiate that.”

But nothing was expected to be done about how the Oakland Raiders seemingly got around the Rooney Rule in hiring Jon Gruden as head coach. Since 2003, the Rooney Rule has demanded that a Black candidate or other candidates of color must be interviewed for head coach and general manager vacancies.

Tony Dungy Charles Hallman/MSR News

After an investigation, the league cleared the team of the hiring process and stated that it would not face any discipline. Actually, only one club, Detroit, has been fined after the Lions publicly said they had no intention of interviewing anyone other than who they had in mind, a White coach. Green Bay later said something similar but wasn’t fined after they flew in and out a token candidate, and later admitted their sidestepping act.

So how was what Oakland did — telling the world that Gruden was their man multiple times while holding a couple of token interviews — any different?

The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which first pushed for the Rooney Rule, called out the NFL for simply co-signing the Raiders’ action. “We believe the facts overwhelmingly point in the other direction. We have called for meetings with the League to ensure that a process like this never happens again,” Alliance Chairman John Wooten told ESPN.

“You can follow the rule and still not follow the spirit of the rule. That’s what’s happening,” former NFL head coach Tony Dungy told the MSR at Super Bowl media night in St. Paul.

Hence, why we call it the Rooney Ruse. Oakland got bold enough to do it so openly, probably knowing that the NFL wouldn’t do anything about it.

“You can go interview someone — if you are really trying to integrate — look and then make the best decision you can make,” continued Dungy. “That’s what you should be doing. You can’t legislate that.”

Kevin Warren Onika Nicole Craven/MSR News

“We just have to continually make [diversity] a priority,” said Minnesota Vikings COO Kevin Warren, the highest ranking Black on any league team. “Diversity is important — gender, sexual orientation, race, religious [beliefs]. It’s important to the Vikings [and] the NFL to continually put diversity at the forefront. When you do that, you get good things from it,” he said.

“We attract better people with diverse backgrounds,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during Super Bowl week.

If this indeed is true, then why didn’t the league come down on Oakland for their Gruden hire? They should lose a draft pick, be levied a heavy fine or both for sidestepping the Rooney Rule. Rather teams keep doing the Rooney Ruse, treating the hiring process supposedly designed to improve diversity as an unnecessary ordeal in order to get to their White choice for coach or GM.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.