Ozzie Newsome’s retirement highlights a looming Rooney Rule mess for the NFL
After the Raiders treated the Rooney Rule only slightly better than they treated former coach Jack Del Rio (whose position was filled even before it was vacant), the NFL beefed up the terms of a provision that has, for many teams, become an exercise in box-checking. And the proof is hiding in plain sight; currently, minority coaches and executives are dwindling, not thriving, in the NFL.
Only one African-American coach or G.M. has control over a football operation, and Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome will be retiring at season’s end. That will leave no coach, no General Manager, no V.P. of player personnel, no one who has practical or contractual final say over the construction of an NFL roster.
If Chris Grier remains in Miami (his status is unclear), he’ll be the only minority G.M. when the dust settles on 2018. For coaches, it could become nearly as bad. With Hue Jackson already out in Cleveland, and Vance Joseph, Todd Bowles, and Steve Wilks expected to be fired in Denver, New York, and Arizona, respectively, the NFL will have only four minority coaches: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin (whom many locals want to see fired), Bengals coach Marvin Lewis (who could be out), Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera (who’s currently expected to be safe).
That’s not what the league or the Fritz Pollard Alliance envisioned more than 15 years ago, when the standard named for the late Dan Rooney first emerged as a device for rectifying decades of unfairly biased hiring practices by NFL teams, as demonstrated by the raw numbers. Perhaps nothing other than a massive verdict in federal court will spark truly meaningful change when it comes to ensuring that fair, unbiased practices are employed not only when hiring coaches and executives but also when grooming lower-level employees for advancement (which could be the real heart of the problem).
Maybe that’s where it all ends: With a jury putting a large number in the appropriate box. Maybe, at some point, a coach or an executive who can attest to a career full of subtle but unmistakable bias will take a stand, aided by a team of lawyers who will aggressively uncover the proof to support the notion that, no matter what the league says, most of the teams do something otherwise.