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NFL implements new diversity measures

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

National Football League owners, as expected, approved a series of changes to its Rooney Rule intended to improve racial diversity throughout the league. But they stopped short of tying minority hiring to improved draft positioning.

NFL teams will now be required to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coaching positions, twice the prior requirement, and interview at least one minority candidate for coordinator coaching jobs, and senior football operations and general manager positions. 

In addition, teams will be required to interview minorities or female candidates for a wide variety of business-side positions, including team president and senior roles in areas such as finance, legal, marketing, and sales.

Owners relaxed their anti-tampering rules to allow assistant coaches and executives more freedom to interview for jobs with other organizations. Keeping teams from blocking other clubs from interviewing their coaches for what the league defines as “bona fide” positions is particularly seen as a potentially powerful means to improve diversity and candidate development across the league.

“These steps will assure coaching and football personnel are afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to advance throughout our football operations,” said Art Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers owner and chairman of the NFL’s workplace diversity committee.

But owners tabled a separate and much-debated proposal that would have sought to reward clubs who make minority hires in key positions with elevated draft slots. Typically, proposed measures that are tabled signal that they do not have enough for passage, and the idea has received plenty of skepticism among prominent minority figures around the league.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, however, insisted, the tabling was not due to a lack of owner support.

“There was a great deal of support,” he said. “But there also some suggestions, amendments, and thoughts that we may want to go back and talk to others…and try to strengthen it and try to make sure it does what we were originally intending, which is to reward team and coaches for developing minority coaches that can go on to be head coaches in this league.”

The Rooney Rule, created in 2003 and named for late Steelers owner Dan Rooney, was designed to slow team hiring processes, broaden the pool of candidates for each available job, and improve overall opportunities in the league for minorities.

But in recent years, the rule’s efficacy, despite any good intentions, has faded noticeably as just three of the last 20 head coaching openings around the league have been filled by minorities, and minority interviews have been widely deemed as just temporary obstacles toward intended hires.

Minorities currently comprise four head coaches and two managers across the 32-team league.

“We feel the package of steps and initiatives the owners fully supported all will contribute to making progress in this area,” Goodell said. “Most importantly, our work is not done. We continue to focus on a number of other initiatives and will continue to until we have greater success in this area.”

NFL teams, meanwhile, can now have limited re-openings of their training facilities, so long as state and local governments also allow it. The first phase of the league plan, however, bars coaches and all players except those undergoing injury rehabilitation, leaving the facility access for now primarily to business staffers and those who need to be there to perform their jobs, such as trainers and technology staffers.

The re-openings also come with a wide variety of protective health measures, including temperature checks, strict requirements on which personnel are allowed to be at facilities, and limits on the number of people that can be in individual rooms. There is not yet any timetable for the NFL to move to subsequent phases. Facilities have been closed since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and players have been conducting offseason workouts virtually.

“This first phase of reopening is an important step in demonstrating our ability to operate safely and effectively, even in the current environment,” Goodell said. “After we implement this first phase, and as more states and localities enact policites that allow more club facilities to reopen, I expect that additional staff, likely including coaching staff, will be allowed to return to club facilities in a relatively short time.”

The NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, also briefed owners on Covid-19 planning, and said the league is working with the NFL Players Association on a variety of protocols for not only a resumption of full training at team facilities, but also the intended 2020 season upcoming in the fall. But he said the league’s response to the likely inevitable incidence of positive virus tests will be key.

“We fully well expect that we will have positive cases that arise,” Sills said. “Because we think that this disease will remain endemic in society, it shouldn’t be a suprise that new positive cases arise. Our challenge is to identify them as quickly as possible and prevent any spread to other participants. We’re working very diligently on that, and we’ll have some detailed plans at a later time.”