A simple rule that could transform sport in Australia
Would Australia’s sporting mainstream benefit from the introduction of a Rooney Rule?
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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