Monday, December 14, 2009

Ethical affirmative action in the NFL

The Indianapolis Colts beat Denver, 28-16 to bring the Colts’ record to a perfect 13-0. The Colts are coached by Jim Caldwell, in his first year replacing Tony Dungy, who stepped down after seven successful seasons, including a Super Bowl win.
It was worth remarking that none of the announcers thought it worth remarking that Caldwell, like Dungy, is African-American. This all results from the Rooney rule—arguably the most successful affirmative action policy in American sports—perhaps in America, period.
The Rooney rule requires all NFL teams with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate. They can hire who they like, but they must interview a minority candidate.
The rule was adopted in 2003 when the NFL owners, prodded by black attorney Johnnie Cochran, looked hard at themselves and didn’t like what they saw. In a league with 70% black players, there were only two black head coaches—six percent of the league’s teams.
They asked themselves the central questions of ethics: “What kind of a person do I want to be?” And “What kind of group do I want to be a part of?” They didn’t want to be a part of a league where nearly all the head coaches were white and nearly all the players were black. So they adopted the Rooney rule.
Today there are, unremarkably, seven black coaches in the 32-team league. Black coaches have reached the pinnacle, winning two Super Bowls, and the depths, being fired from jobs at Kansas City and Cleveland. The most ethical of affirmative action efforts has been successful.
Dan Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steeler owner who chaired an owners committee that came up with the Rooney rule, said he is pleased with the rule, but, "I really feel and hope that we will not need a Rooney Rule very long."


Jack Marshall said...

Boy, I dunno, Bob: requiring pro-forma diverse interviews when the team may have already decided whom it wants to hire smacks of PR pandering and form over substance. The principle is also dubious: it implicitly makes the color of a candidate more significant than his qualifications.

I doubt that the Rooney rule did anything but keep Jesse Jackson off the NFL's back. The black coaches got hired for the right reasons: the teams wanted to win, and wanted to find the best coach, no matter who or what he was.

If the Rooney Rule required teams to interview an Asian candidate, or a female candidate, or a disabled candidate, do you really think there would be more female, Asian, or disabled NFL coaches?

Bob said...

You make the right arguments, which I'll try to counter when I get back to my computer tomorrow. Too hard to do on an iPhone. The issues are with your opening words: pro forma and required. More tomorrow.

Bob said...

The color of a candidate is NOT more significant than his qualifications. BUt there were qualified balcks who never got to be considered.

NFL people, most recently Cris Collingsworth, say the Rooney rule has made a difference. There sure have been a lot more black coaches after the rule than before.

But I think the issue is one of virtue ethics: what kind of people are we, what kind of club are we? Is it ok for all the bosses to be white and most of the players to be black? And if it's not ok, let's do something about it.

This was something that would only work if self-imposed. It couldn't be enforced from outside, not even by Jesse Jackson and Johnnie Cochran.