Civil rights leaders met with the commissioner of the NFL in the wake of a racial discrimination lawsuit accusing the professional football league of shady hiring practices that often defer to white head coaching applicants.
During the meeting on Monday, they told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that it was time to revise and update the league’s policy to improve diversity recruitment efforts, including and especially the so-called Rooney Rule that Brian Flores’ lawsuit claims has been an utter failure — and “sham.”
The meeting came on the same day the Houston Texas hired Lovie Smith, a Black man, to be its head coach.
However, the civil rights leader said that the Rooney Rule — which the NFL adopted in 2003 to require teams to interview at least two minority candidates for their head coach openings — is “deceptively” used by teams to feign the appearance of racially equitable searches for candidates.
“However well-intentioned, the effect of the Rooney Rule has been for team decision-makers to regard interviews with candidates of color as an extraneous step, rather than an integral part of the hiring process,” Urban League CEO Marc Morial said in a statement emailed to NewsOne.
With the hiring of Smith, there is still one fewer Black head coach in the NFL than there was when the Rooney Rule was instituted.
“The gravity of the situation is long past the crisis point,” Morial emphasized.
The Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network said the NFL must effect tangible change, not rhetorical.
“The Rooney Rule has been proven to be something the owners used to deceptively appear to be seeking real diversity,” Sharpton said. “We must have firm targets and timetables.”
Other civil rights leaders who met with Goodell on Monday include Black Civic Participation President and CEO Melanie Campbell, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson and National African American Clergy Network co-convener Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner.
In a 58-page document filed in Manhattan federal court, Flores — who was fired by the Miami Dolphins last month after three seasons as head coach — alleged a pattern of racist hiring practices by the NFL and racial discrimination during the interview process with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants, as well as during his tenure with Miami.
For instance, according to the suit, during Flores’ interview with the Denver Broncos in 2019, then-General Manager John Elway, President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Ellis and others showed up an hour late. They also looked like they had spent the night prior drinking heavily, the lawsuit claims. Flores said he believed the interview only happened so the Broncos could comply with the Rooney Rule and that the team never had any intention of hiring Flores.
The hiring of Smith this week meant there were only two Black head coaches in the entire 32-team league.
Of the nine head coaching vacancies that emerged at the end of the regular season, five have been filled, all but one going to white coaches. In a league in which most of the players are Black, it’s hard to ignore that most of the NFL head coaches are white.
In 2021, the league expanded the Rooney Rule to include general managers and offensive and defensive coordinators.