By: Joel Bryant
The National Football League has a reputation for not handling socioeconomic and sociopolitical issues in ways that our increasingly progressive society would deem acceptable. Namely, the recent outcry over the NFL’s punishment -or lack thereof- of their athletes who have been accused of committing domestic abuse has been a black eye for the multibillion dollar organization. Essentially, the NFL has become synonymous with social injustice.
If there is one thing that the NFL has gotten right, it’s the Rooney Rule. Named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the Rooney Rule is a requirement that forces NFL and its franchises to interview minority candidates for each executive or coaching job opening. Specifically, the rule mandates that at least one minority is interviewed whenever a head coaching or senior football operations position needs to be filled.
This winter, seven NFL teams were on the market for a new head coach. Each team adhered to the rule and ended up interviewing eight different black candidates collectively. While only the Browns ended up hiring a minority to be their next head coach (Hue Jackson), the effect of the rule is still apparent. While the rule’s enforcement may not directly lead to the hiring of a minority candidate in the present, it can help set up relationships between the two sides for future opportunities. Since the Rooney Rule’s integration a decade ago, the percentage of black coaches in the league has risen to 22%, a huge improvement over the 6% that was calculated in 2013.
The reason why it works is simple: by following the standard, each team looking to fill a vacancy is required to look into people that they would never have considered otherwise. It is important to note that the reason these candidates weren’t considered isn’t necessarily because they’re black. It often had to do with the team’s drive promote someone from in house or someone that they are very familiar which were often white candidates. Most importantly, the Rooney Rule is future-proof. Once more minorities are in positions of power, they can initiate a change in representation at lower levels of their company or organization (the same way white people hire other white people).
I bring up the subject in response to the recent outcry that has surrounded both the film and technology industries. Across America, almost everyone has been made aware of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, a movement that has criticized the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their failure to nominate any black actors for awards over the past two years. Outside of Hollywood, Silicon Valley companies are continuously brutalized for their lack of minority and female executives.
On the surface, these are two completely different issues; however, both of these situations all stem from the same obstacle: minorities don’t receive the same opportunities and the majority, something that Chris Rock echoed in his controversial monologue at the Oscars last Sunday. In the valley, it’s pretty straight-forward — companies are unwilling to take risks and venture outside of their standard focal group, just like the teams in the NFL.
In Hollywood, it’s a little more complex. The lack of black representation in awards shows stems from a couple of different things. For one, there is a lack of minority executives in each of the major production studios and distributors. If you have a non-diverse executive base, it is less likely that they will hire a minority for a directorial role or even sign off on a top-billed check for an actor that is portrayed by a minority. By extension, the lack of diversity leads into the next major point: minorities aren’t hired for the same roles as whites. It’s obvious that black people of equal talent aren’t hired for as many Oscar-quality roles as white people. In some cases, a number of contending films are based on real-life events in which the race of characters cannot be altered in order to stay true to the story. However, in films about characters that are not bound to a particular race, studios should be forced to follow a version of the Rooney Rule that would require equal auditions for all races.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently announced that the Rooney Rule would be expanded to include women in addition to racial minorities. Any version of the Rooney Rule that is applied to Hollywood and Silicon Valley companies should include this extension, for the lack of representation of women in positions of power is an equivalent problem, if not bigger than the lack of racial diversity, particularly in the technology industry.
Being that there is no parallel to the Rooney Rule in the technology and film industries, applying it would be up to each individual company. For example, Walt Disney Studios, Apple, 20th Century Fox, and Google would each bind themselves to their own version of the Rooney Rule. Companies will have to hold themselves accountable. Once one major company pulls the trigger, the rest will fall like dominoes as a result of exterior pressure. Eventually, every corporation will give in to the standard. If not, they will look like the Dallas Cowboys, the team who signed the despicable woman abuser Greg Hardy to an $11 million contract last offseason.