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Fritz Pollard Alliance, NFL officials meet about Rooney Rule

At stake, some within the game say privately, is whether the rule can still be an effective tool to increase inclusion

INDIANAPOLIS — After meeting Tuesday about the future of the Rooney Rule, NFL officials and the group that helps oversee compliance with the rule agreed to continue discussions on proposals to improve inclusive hiring in the NFL, a person familiar with the situation told The Undefeated.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance, concerned about the Oakland Raiders’ handling of their head coaching vacancy as well as the fact that only one black coach was hired out of seven openings in the just-completed hiring cycle, requested a meeting with the league besides the annual session that occurs in December to review things. As the NFL scouting combine got underway, representatives of the NFL commissioner’s office and the alliance cleared the air after their public split on whether the Raiders violated the spirit of the rule in rehiring Jon Gruden in January.

Although Raiders owner Mark Davis essentially provided a blueprint on how he violated the spirit of the rule during a news conference to reintroduce Gruden as head coach, the league, after investigating the matter, ruled that the Raiders were in compliance. The alliance disagreed with the ruling and admonished the league and the Raiders. With that backdrop, it’s not surprising that the meeting was “tense at times,” one participant said. But the commissioner’s office reaffirmed its commitment to promoting diversity in the NFL from the front office to the field.

The rule, which has been in place since 2003 for head coaches and was expanded in 2009 to include general manager jobs and equivalent front-office positions, mandates that an NFL team must interview at least one candidate of color for these positions. But in a league that’s 70 percent African-American, the NFL continues to fall short in hiring people of color to fill key decision-making positions.

Commissioner Roger Goodell is in his 12th year leading the NFL. In Goodell’s first season, the NFL had only seven head coaches of color. Today it has only eight. Out of 32 jobs.

During Goodell’s time in office, the league has taken a step backward in hiring general managers. When Goodell took office, there were only four African-American general managers. Today, there are only three, two of whom have authority in the decision-making process. None of the league’s teams has a black president.

Officials have acknowledged repeatedly that the league must do more to increase the number of qualified candidates of color in the pipeline for positions. But will the NFL do more to enforce compliance of the rule? In 2003, Goodell’s predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, fined former Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen $200,000 for “failing to discharge his duties” under the requirement. No teams have been fined since, and some within the game say privately that the league chose to look the other way in the Oakland situation.

The irony is that at a time when the rule no longer appears to be effective in the NFL, corporate America has imitated the league in an attempt to improve its hiring record when it comes to diversity. Facebook, Pinterest, Intel, Xerox and Amazon are among the companies that have instituted their own version of the rule. Even the Pentagon has explored using some form of the rule to diversify its officer corps.

The question is whether the NFL, after initially leading the way, will finally step to the front of the line again.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.