Former NFL coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday against the league and three teams, alleging racial discrimination against Black coaches – which the NFL strongly denies.
In the class-action lawsuit, Flores specifically cites the league’s Rooney Rule as being a “well-intentioned failure.”
Here’s what you need to know about that rule and what the lawsuit has to say about it.
What is the Rooney Rule?
In a nutshell, the rule requires NFL teams to interview a diverse range of candidates for coaching jobs and other positions.
The league adopted it in 2003 based on recommendations from its Workplace Diversity Committee. The rule was named after the late Dan Rooney, who was the committee’s chairman at the time and owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“The committee’s initial focus was on the historically low number of minorities in head coaching positions,” the NFL says on its website. “The policy originally required every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one or more diverse candidates before making a new hire.
“Over the years, the Rooney Rule has expanded to include a greater number of positions across NFL clubs. In 2009, the policy was amended to include general manager jobs and equivalent front-office positions, requiring each team to interview a minimum of two external minority candidates.”
Other changes have been made since then.
As of last year, every team must interview “at least two external minority candidates for open head coaching positions and at least one external minority candidate for a coordinator job,” the NFL says. “Additionally, at least one minority and/or female candidate must be interviewed for senior level positions (e.g., club president and senior executives).”
As things stand, only one out of 27 NFL head coaches is Black. Five teams are without a head coach. There are two other non-Black minority coaches – one of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent and one of Lebanese descent.
How did it come up in Flores’ lawsuit?
Flores claims he was put through sham interviews for the sake of appearance, and that the Rooney Rule “has failed to yield any meaningful change to an institution so fully steeped in discriminatory practices.”
His lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, calls the “well-intentioned” rule a failure, accusing the NFL of a “complete lack of action” since enacting the rule “to remedy discrimination that it admits exists.”
“The Rooney Rule is not working. It is not working because the numbers of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and Quarterback Coaches are not even close to being reflective of the number of Black athletes on the field.
“The Rooney Rule is also not working because management is not doing the interviews in good-faith, and it therefore creates a stigma that interviews of Black candidates are only being done to comply with the Rooney Rule rather than in recognition of the talents that the Black candidates possess.”
Only 15 head coaching positions out of 129 vacancies have been filled by Black candidates since the rule’s creation, according to the lawsuit. The suit further claims that “with few exceptions” these Black head coaches “have been on a ‘short leash’ and lasted for extremely short periods” compared to White candidates.
“Thus only 11% of Head Coach positions have been filled by Black candidates – in a league where 70% of players are Black.”