More On The Rooney Rule And Our Thought Processes

Nick has already shared his thoughts about the Rooney Rule, but I wanted to add a few things to what he has said. And while I realize this is another thread I’m starting, many of the thoughts I have would get pretty lengthy for a Disqus post.

When we examine the issue about the lack of minority representation among NFL coaches, we need to consider what racism is really all about. We tend to think of racism as the ugly kind, such as white supremacy and what we associate with that. But it’s really a state of mind that can be summed up in a less inflammatory manner: We form perceptions based on our life experiences, those perceptions result in us falling into a comfort zone and anything that changes that comfort zone makes us uncomfortable.

There are those who hold the belief that everyone is racist to a certain degree. The more I have read, the more I have concluded that those people are correct. One doesn’t have to openly state “my kind superior, other kinds inferior” to be racist. It’s more about our tendencies to fall into a comfort zone based on our own perceptions and life experiences.

The trick is to confront that racism by realizing that our own life experiences are not shared by every single other person, especially those who have, historically, been treated as “second-class citizens.” For those historical aspects, it takes time to weed out those perceptions and there will be those who will cling to their beliefs when changes happen that they don’t like. But simply eliminating practices such as slavery and segregation aren’t enough by themselves. Unless each of us, as individuals, confront our own biases (and racism is a form of bias) and learn to empathize more with what others have experienced, we won’t make the changes that really need to happen to reduce racism.

With that said, we do have ways of thinking that won’t go away simply by reducing or eliminating racism. But we have to recognize that, as long as those ways of thinking exist, they will fuel perceptions that groups that have historically been treated as “second-class citizens” are still being treated that way. It requires us to start thinking outside the box more often rather than falling into the trap of “we have always done it this way.”

To that end, we need to recognize that, while the Rooney Rule had good intentions and that, yes, it is a good idea to interview minority candidates for position, that the Rooney Rule by itself is not enough. As Nick pointed out, we have too many examples of teams who already had their head coaching candidates in mind, and if those candidates were white, then a minority candidate who gets an interview is only getting it to satisfy the Rooney Rule. No, that wasn’t the intent behind the rule, but that’s the net effect it’s having in certain situations. And it isn’t hard to figure out that requiring teams to interview a minority candidate for coordinator positions is going to lead to the same problem.

I agree with Nick that we need a system that can do more to force teams to think more carefully during the process of selecting head coaches. The same could be said for the process of selecting coordinators and they might be good for general managers, too. There’s also the question to ask about what happens when teams promote from within and are able to avoid the Rooney Rule. I would have to do more research, but it would be interesting to find out how long coaches who fell under that “promoted from within” exception lasted as head coaches. Perhaps the “promote from within” exception needs to be eliminated, simply to ensure a more thorough process.

But we do need to spend more time thinking outside the box not only in terms of solutions to implement, but in terms of challenging conventional wisdom. For example, if you believe that an offensive coordinator needs experience as a quarterback coach, where is it written that only quarterback coaches are qualified for that? Did you ever stop to ask yourself if a running back or wide receiver coach could handle the job? Consider that the overwhelming majority of quarterbacks have been white, and our perceptions often point us to believing that an experienced QB is better suited to be a QB coach, it’s not surprising more of those coaches would be white and that, in turn, it leads to more offensive coordinators who are white.

And if you believe that experience counts more than anything else, then how in the world can you ever expect somebody who has never been a head coach to have the chance to prove he can be one? Throw in the fact that the overwhelming majority of experienced NFL head coaches are white and it isn’t hard to see the perception that the “experience counts” mindset will fuel perceptions about an unwillingness to hire minority coaches, fairly or not.

Changing those mindsets isn’t going to be easy and starting with your own perceptions won’t result in an immediate change in the perceptions of NFL owners and general managers. But if more people take the time to consider their own biases and learn to empathize more with what others have experienced, the more likely pressure may build up that will maybe force owners and general managers to reconsider their thought processes and try a different approach.

As with any changes to a system, they will take time to happen. The important thing to remember with any proposed solution is this: Keep checking on it to see if gets you closer to your desired goal. If you do get there, that’s good. If not, keep thinking about different approaches rather than more of the same or just going back to the way it used to be. And most of all, be prepared to step outside your comfort zone and learn more about what others are experiencing. That will help you more in your search to find the best possible solution.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.