Civil rights leaders who met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Monday called for the League to establish specific recruiting and hiring procedures for executive and coaching positions, with meaningful consequences for teams that do not abide by the rules.
The Rooney Rule, a policy established in 2003 that requires teams to interview candidates of color for head coaching and senior football operation positions, must be replaced, the leaders said.
National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial, National Action Network Founder and President Rev. Al Sharpton, National Coalition on 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 requested the meeting after former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores accused the NFL and three of its teams of racial discrimination in a proposed class-action lawsuit filed last week.
“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,” Morial said, noting that the NFL currently has only one Black head coach, two fewer than when the Rule was established. “The gravity of the situation is long past the crisis point.”
Sharpton said the National Action Network will be approaching states and municipalities to stop public funding and tax incentives to NFL stadiums until these firm commitments on timetables and goals are solid and public.
“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. NAN also has begun talking to members of Congress about Congressional hearings since public funds are being used to uphold this biased enterprise. Lastly, we will be going to major advertisers telling them they cannot continue to use our dollars in this unacceptable economic arrangement.”
The leaders, who have long advocated for an investigation into the NFL’s hiring practices, said they welcomed Goodell’s announcement of an independent review of the NFL’s diversity, equity and inclusion policies and initiatives, and emphasized that the civil rights and racial justice community must be part of that review.
“It’s simply not enough for the League to declare its good intentions,” Johnson said. “This is a long-standing crisis that must be confronted with diligence and rigor.”
The influence of professional football on the national culture lends a heightened urgency to the diversity issue, the leaders said.
“While the NFL has begun making strides with regard to social justice and racial equity, it’s clear that voices of color are not being entirely heard in the executive suites,” Sharpton said. “Good intentions are not enough.”
The leaders also reiterated their wholehearted support for Flores.
“Coach Flores has taken a principled stand for justice, at no small risk to himself and to his career,” Campbell said. “He has risen to meet a crucial moment in history.”
Williams-Skinner added, “We agree that Coach Flores’ lawsuit presents the League with an opportunity to engage in substantive change and we will do everything in our power to make sure that opportunity is not squandered.”
The leaders and Commissioner Goodell agreed to continue working together to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion at every level of the NFL and its member teams.