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Why changes to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” may not change much

April 5, 2022 - Dr. Ryan Denison

FILE- Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, on Oct. 31, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Pittsburgh Steelers hired the former Miami Dolphins coach on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, to serve as a senior defensive assistant. The hiring comes less than three weeks after Flores sued the NFL and three teams over alleged racist hiring practices following his dismissal by Miami in January. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)

FILE- Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, on Oct. 31, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Pittsburgh Steelers hired the former Miami Dolphins coach on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, to serve as a senior defensive assistant. The hiring comes less than three weeks after Flores sued the NFL and three teams over alleged racist hiring practices following his dismissal by Miami in January. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)

One of the more interesting parts of the NFL offseason is seeing how the league will attempt to address concerns raised by fans, teams, and their other partners over the course of the previous season.

Typically, these changes are minor—if they happen at all—but, on occasion, something changes that could have a real impact on the league. And while it’s too soon to know for sure, the changes mandated for the upcoming season could represent just such a turning point for one of the NFL’s most consistent problems.

The NFL, diversity, and the Rooney Rule

Diversity among the higher ranks of NFL teams has been an issue for quite some time. The league has tried in the past to remedy the situation through steps like the Rooney Rule, which mandates that every team must interview a minority candidate when searching for a new head coach.

The thought was that, even if the minority candidate did not receive the job, it would allow them to get experience and be more prepared for the next opportunity. But while the intent was good, the reality is that it has not led to much of an increase in actual diversity among the NFL’s top ranks.

Moreover, many of the coaches who received interviews to satisfy the Rooney Rule’s requirements felt that they were never given a real chance.

Brian Flores, for example, sued the NFL and several teams in February, alleging that many of his interviews were a sham and that they were handled in an unprofessional manner, with team executives showing up late, hungover, or otherwise unprepared for their meetings. While each of the parties in the suit has disputed those allegations, the controversy set off another round of calls for the NFL to review and update its approach to diversity among coaches.

To that end, the league recently announced some of the most substantive changes to the Rooney Rule since its inception roughly two decades ago.

Will Rooney Rule changes change anything?

Women, for example, will now be included among the minority candidates who can satisfy the rule. While there are not many women currently coaching in the league—last season set a record with twelve—the hope is that including them in the rule now will help clear the path for advancement in the future.

The more immediately impactful change, however, is that every NFL team must now employ a minority coach on the offensive side of the ball.

As Art Rooney II—the son of the Rooney Rule’s namesake—points out, “We clearly have a trend where coaches are coming from the offensive side of the ball in recent years.”

That trend is significant because, while roughly half of the league’s defensive coordinators are minority coaches, far fewer help on the other side of the ball. As such, the hope is that by requiring teams to look for and develop minority talent on offense, those coaches will then be better positioned to advance in their careers going forward.

Time will tell if the latest rules lead to real change or if they are simply the latest in a long line of failed attempts to generate greater diversity among the league’s coaches, but the effort is noteworthy beyond football for what it reveals about flaws in human nature and the repeated failures of our culture to address those flaws.

How lasting, substantive change happens

While the problems in our society are caused by a litany of reasons, they often persist in large part because people would rather address them at a cultural level rather than at a personal level.

To be sure, there are times when attempting to legislate morality to correct a wrong is necessary and beneficial. More often than not, though, thinking that we can change people’s hearts and minds by mandating a certain action fails to address the root cause of the issue. As such, behavior may change for a time, but the problem will simply pop back up in a different way.

With regards to the NFL’s diversity issues, requiring teams to employ a minority candidate on offense may eventually lead to more minority head coaches. Chances are, however, that the teams to actually hire a minority candidate would have done so with or without the Rooney Rule.

In the same way, franchises that are presently unwilling to really consider a minority candidate are not likely to change that approach simply because they’re forced to interview or employ them at a lower level to satisfy the league’s requirements. If the league wants to see change, it has to start by caring more about the character of the people making those decisions.

The same is true in other parts of our culture.

Legislating morality and expecting our world to improve will always fall short of the kind of change we really need to see. Unless that change happens on a personal level, with a substantive shift in people’s expectations and standards for their own lives, our current trajectory is not going to change.

Fortunately, we serve a God who wants to help people do just that.

Consequently, the quickest and most reliable way to help our culture turn around is for individual Christians to make sure that their lives reflect the love, grace, and morality of Christ, and then to share his gospel with others to help them do the same.

Are you doing your part today?

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