In 2003, only three out of 32 National Football League teams had a Black head coach, leading the NFL to pass the Rooney Rule, which required teams to interview a minority candidate for head coaching vacancies and other top positions.
Since then, the rule has been tweaked to make the requirement two minority interviews for open positions. In addition, teams that develop minority coaches and front office executives who go on to become head coaches and general managers for other organizations are rewarded with additional third round draft picks.
So how do things stand today almost twenty years later? Exactly the same. Currently, only three out of 32 teams have a Black head coach.
At the end of this past season, Brian Flores, who is Black, was fired as head coach by the Miami Dolphins despite two consecutive winning seasons. He then interviewed for the New York Giants job that went to former Buffalo Bills assistant, Brian Daboll (Thank you, Brian, for your service in Buffalo).
Flores then filed a class-action lawsuit against the Giants and several other teams claiming racial discrimination. His suit claims that text messages Flores received from New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick showed the New York Giants planned to hire Brian Daboll as the new head coach before they had even interviewed any minority candidate as required by the Rooney Rule.
Former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey recently admitted that when he was hired in 2016, the team delayed an official announcement of his hiring so they could conduct interviews with minority coaches to satisfy the Rooney Rule.
The Rooney Rule has been an abysmal failure.
Black Players, White Owners
Black players make up more than 70 percent of NFL players. Black head coaches make up 6.25 percent of NFL coaches. There are zero Black NFL franchise owners.
One suggested change to the Rooney Rule that owners didn’t approve was improving the draft position of teams that hire Black head coaches. Whatever the reason for voting this suggestion down, this kind of incentivizing only amplifies the misperception that teams need to be rewarded for hiring Black coaches because they aren’t as good as White coaches. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that Black coaches outperform their White counterparts—averaging 2.6 more wins in their first season, and 1.2 more wins in seasons where they were eventually fired.
Leslie Frasier, a former NFL head coach and currently the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, interviewed at the end of this past season with the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, and the New York Giants for the head coaching vacancies. He didn’t get any of those jobs.
In a subsequent interview with Meet the Press Reports, Frazier said “There has to be a massive change of heart with ownership in order for this to be rectified. Because at the end of the day, it’s only the owners that can change this. It’s not the Commissioner . . . it’s not committees. It’s the decision makers.”
Frazier got a lot of pushback from “fans” on ProFootballTalk’s message board. Most of the complaints had to do with reverse racism, distaste over anything that smacks of reparations, or sticking up for the rights of owners to hire whoever they want.
And that’s what it comes down to, as Frazier said: the owners. It’s their business. They can hire who they want.
Why is it so hard to understand that a bunch of white billionaires who live in white bubbles surrounded by white people are a lot more comfortable hiring white head coaches and in most cases will do exactly that? If this isn’t overt racism, it’s certainly baked-in racial bias—a perfect mirror on the state of race relations in our good ol’ United States.