Would Australia’s sporting mainstream benefit from the introduction of a Rooney Rule?

Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy getting dunked. He was the first African-American coach to win a Superbowl. Pic: AP / File

In 2003, America’s NFL introduced the Rooney Rule to provide legitimate opportunities for minority candidates. The rule, named after Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise and a strong advocate for the rule’s introduction, requires all NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any vacant head coaching or front office position.

Concurrently the Fritz Pollard Alliance was established to identify candidates, submit names for vacancies and to prepare prospective applicants for the interview process.

The idea of the rule is to slow down the process and get teams to do their homework and investigate a lot of candidates, not just minority candidates.

You [go] through the process, and in doing that, sometimes you uncover people.

- Tony Dungy, the first African-American NFL Coach to win a Super Bowl.

To an Australian perspective the Rooney Rule may seem condescending and insensitive. But its influence in the NFL is hard to ignore. Before 2003, there had only been five African-American coaches in NFL history.

Since the introduction of the Rooney Rule, five of the past six teams to reach the Super Bowl, including the past three Super Bowl winners, have had either an African-American coach or general manager.

Would a policy similar in principle to the Rooney Rule transfer into the Australian sporting landscape?

Leading Australian sporting organisations have the management structures and an attentive audience in place to adopt a Rooney Rule-like policy and an associated body to identify and nurture minority candidates.

Why not incorporate the Rooney Rule into established workplace diversity programs, reconciliation plans, youth development initiatives and talent identification programs?

It’s an opportunity to identify and develop the next generation of sporting administrators and leaders.

It’s an opportunity to actively participate in social change.

Sporting organisations already poach administrators from outside the sporting realm. A Rooney Rule could see the reverse happen.

Not all minority candidates may secure employment in sporting organisations, however the valuable interview skills acquired through the increased exposure to executive level coaching and management positions will serve the candidates well in applying for positions in other industries. Minority candidates could potentially be headhunted from outside the sporting workforce.

The Rooney Rule is far from water tight. Its legitimacy is intrinsically tied to the honest participation of its protagonists. It needs to be enforced effectively.

NFL franchises are run by private ownership, as with any privately run enterprise, the owner has the discretion to hire whoever he or she may please. Recently, the relevance of the Rooney Rule was put into question when two NFL franchises skirted the process in order to hire esteemed coaches with “celebrity” status.

As both teams backtracked to officially comply with the regulations, the media debated the value of the Rooney Rule.

Journalist Jay Mariotti surmised that “If teams aren’t serious about their interviews with certain minority candidates, why waste their time and sabotage the intent of the Rooney Rule? Or why even have such a rule at all when it seems, in the minds of some owners, to be more of a logistical pain in the butt than a sincere attempt to raise the profiles of minority candidates?”

If successful, a Rooney Rule would shine a prosperous light on the Australian sporting mainstream, encouraging cultural growth through a sporting prism.

When adequately enforced and respected by its participants, the NFL’s Rooney Rule is a noble example of how sport can be a catalyst for social change.

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    • thebigriboldi says:

      07:14am | 20/01/10

      A really interesting concept. I wonder how a Rooney Rule (after reading the first line I thought it was going to be about WAYNE Rooney - and be a no- dickheads rule) would work in other areas of administration, not just sport.

    • S.L says:

      07:20am | 20/01/10

      What would you class as a minority with limited opportunaties in Australian sport Luke? All our sports are full of Indigenous, Anglo, White European, Asian and even African American (basketball) players and administraters so where does a Rooney rule affect us and what is there to transform?

    • Rob says:

      07:29am | 20/01/10

      Cricket in Australia is the whitest of white sports.

      This rule may mean it’s no longer ignored by entire swathes of the population who don’t have an Anglo-Celtic background, or are somewhat interested due to having a South Asian or South African background.

    • grumpy says:

      12:42pm | 20/01/10

      If we applied this rule to Cricket would interviewing a South Australian count?

    • S.L says:

      05:53pm | 20/01/10

      Cricket in Australia is the whitest of white sports…..Is it? The Asian desented Chiqui brothers were solid players for NSW for many years. Hauritz sounds like a very Anglo name to me too! I bet there’s many other examples of players of non Anglo origin but as I find cricket as boring as watching the grass grow I’m not that learned on who the top players are.

    • Rev says:

      09:43pm | 20/01/10

      Rob, you’re technically right, but still wrong.  Cricket is dominated by ‘whites’ but Anglo Saxons?  Many of them aren’t.  Katich, Krejza, Hauritz, Kasprowicz, are all clearly not ‘Anglo’ names.  Gillespie was part Aboriginal, Dav Whatmore part Sri Lankan, and a rising star for NSW is Pakistani-born Usman Khawaja.

      I grew up playing cricket and rugby as a kid.  In a town which was 95% white, the cricket team was all-white.  But my rugby team was half white, half black.  It’s not about racism or anything, but the fact that generally speaking, black kids prefer to play (and often excel at) the rugby codes, afl, and football.  Look at the NRL - I’d wager the % of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Pacific Islanders playing league is greater than your precious ‘Anglos’ when compared against their respective populations.

    • SM says:

      07:45am | 20/01/10

      Why should anyone have the right to tell an organisation who they will interview for a position?  If a government wants to apply a rule like this with regards to government appointments then ok, but provided anti discrimination laws aren’t broken, appointments outside of government are none of their business

    • iansand says:

      07:48am | 20/01/10

      Arthur Beetson captained Australia and coached Queensland.  Mark Ella captained Australia and has had coaching roles for Australia.  Indigenous people are well represented in most sports.

      A solution in search of a problem.

    • michelle says:

      10:12am | 20/01/10

      Mal Meniga too, coaches Queensland right now

      (and is doing an awesome job just as a btw)

    • Red says:

      07:51am | 20/01/10

      Since the USA has nearly half its population as a “minority,” the Rooney Rule works.
      In Australia, which group would be the one required to have a representative given an interview?

    • Charles Kelly says:

      08:15am | 20/01/10

      What crock of bleeding-heart do-gooder PC crap! The best person for any job is the BEST person for that job - regardless of their ethnicity, religion or gender. Your suggestion promotes blatant racial discrimination. Bloody pathetic.

    • Joe says:

      09:11am | 20/01/10

      Ease up mate. These poor helpless ‘minorities’ need our help and protection. If we don’t look after them, who will?

    • Charles Kelly says:

      09:53am | 20/01/10

      Well Joe, “if we don’t look after them”, perhaps they’ll finally start to look after themselves? People need to learn that they can’t rely on handouts to get through life. Favouring anybody on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or gender is just as blatantly racist as discriminating against them on the same criteria - and racism will always flourish where double standards exist.

    • Joe says:

      10:27am | 20/01/10

      Wow. I thought that was obvious sarcasm. My point was that giving these ‘minorities’ special treatment implies they need uncle whitey’s help to succeed at life. It treats the ‘minorities’ as less than. As if ‘minorities’ are so worthless and pathetic that they need special treatment. It strikes me as a left wing version of the right wings paternal bullshit and just another example of white racism. I also agree with your points.

    • Charles Kelly says:

      11:19am | 20/01/10

      To be honest Joe, at first read I assumed it was sarcasm (I really hoped it was) - however given the ideologically deluded attitudes of may people who post on here, it’s regrettable that I couldn’t be completely sure. Sad, I know.

    • DG says:

      08:32am | 20/01/10

      Of course if this is a process tied to people agreeing to do the right thing - shouldn’t anti discrimination laws do the job just as well? In fact if every one was going to behave honestly and fairly, with integrity and respect there would be no need for the Rooney laws at all.

      So ignoring the fact that the Rooney law is toothless tiger (and that it assumes that there is a problem that needs fixing) - If there is a genuine concern that discrimination takes a place in the selection why not appoint a representative from the league to sit in on the interview process and to review the final decision? That would actually address this theoretical “racism” and catch these so called “racists” in their tracks.

    • Freddo says:

      09:19am | 20/01/10

      The NBA in America needs a Rooney Rule.
      Each team should be forced to hire one short white guy.
      The extreme disadvantage these players have had to grow up with in their chosen sport is heartbreaking. 
      Hey its only fair.

    • Adam says:

      03:15pm | 20/01/10

      I will take it a step further. Why should, only people who are talented at playing sports be rewarded surely the minority who cant run, catch, swim, bowl, kick, tackle should be also given an opportunity?

    • Josh says:

      09:48am | 20/01/10

      You heard about the plight of Minnesota’s Defensive Coach, Frazier on ESPN and thought you’d recycle it as your own thoughts using wiki, brilliant stuff.

    • Dingo_aus says:

      10:23am | 20/01/10

      What a dangerous thing to seek!  You want to end discrimination by forcing categorisation of people based on race or their membership of a minority group?!?

      Are you high?

    • Martin G says:

      11:19am | 20/01/10

      Whatever happened to interviewing/picking the best person for the job? There is no such thing as ‘positive discrimination’, just look at the South African cricket team - Jacques Rudolph, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott - any one of them could be playing for the Saffers now if it weren’t for the likes of the Ontong controversy, for example.

    • BMJ says:

      11:22am | 20/01/10

      What a silly idea.

      Australian sport is open to anyone who is willing to give it a go. We don’t need token gestures to solve problems that just are not there.

    • James Shaw says:

      11:54am | 20/01/10

      How about this novel idea - the best people for the job get the interviews. AND the best person for the job, actually gets the job!

      I would love to live in a time when discrimination is not practiced in any form and certainly not institutionalised under the banner of being postive

    • Saskia says:

      12:14pm | 20/01/10

      I totally agree.  This rule transform Australian sport… BACKWARDS at a rate of knots!  What a joke.  As in everything MERIT should be the only criteria.  If that means all sport administrators are gay, paraplegic Aboriginal women over 55 than so be it - but merit is and always has been why Australia has excelled at sports and most other fields.  Sadly under the PC ALP governments and particularly under KRudd, we are being run by token, unqualified b-graders who get the gig to pump the egos of tossers like Rudd and Gillard who feel sorry for minorities/people that don’t work as hard/are as talented.  The AFL under Demitriou (a very political CEO) has also taken this approach and the standard and rules/umpiring have gone backwards as he tries to suit minority groups who have no real love or feel for the game.  I think most Aussie Rules fans can’t wait to see the back of him and get back to concentrating on the sport rather than the BS that has sprung up around it.  The Rooney Rule just sounds like a load of PC rubbish and is just another reason to continue to do things the Aussie way.

    • Harquebus says:

      12:16pm | 20/01/10

      Sport is for brain dead morons. I suppose minorities have their share of those too.

    • Martin G says:

      01:31pm | 20/01/10

      Sport is a healthy, physical and social exercise. Generally the brain-dead moron is the one making sweeping generalisations.

    • realist says:

      03:02pm | 20/01/10

      here’s my rule: I am australian. not american. stick your “rooney rule” luke you bleeding heart

    • Paddy says:

      04:01pm | 20/01/10

      Realist you missed the point. It is designed to create a whole new unit with the bureaucracy. I can see it now, full of people who have moved from the aboriginal industry to the climate change industry now looking to the future and guess hat its here…the Rooney Rule. Federal and State Rooney Rule enforcement agency with a Rooney Rule Commissioner. Just think of it, an Appeals Tribunal, a Ombudsman, the legal profession would love it….a levy on each and every person playing sport of $15 per person per year. What a business opportunity.

    • Phi says:

      09:42am | 21/01/10

      When I first started reading the article I wondered how many people in wheel chairs could want such jobs. I must admit I was a bit surprised when I realised that they considered African Americans as a minority.


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