Major League Soccer has a better ‘Rooney Rule’ than the NFL

Robin Fraser

Robin Fraser
Photo: AP

Eighteen years ago, the most prejudiced sports league in American professional sports (Major League Baseball is a close second) created their version of “affirmative action” when they came up with the Rooney Rule — named after the legendary Steelers owner Dan Rooney — in hopes of helping diverse candidates by mandating that at least one minority candidate had to be brought in for an interview whenever a head coaching position was vacant.


In 2003, there were three African-American head coaches in the NFL.

In 2021, there are three African-American head coaches in the NFL.

That is not a math miscalculation. It’s an example of how pathetic this league is when it comes to diversity, as Major League Soccer recently overhauled their “Rooney Rule” in a way that will actually increase the hiring of Black candidates while proving that the NFL’s stagnation is a willful and conscious decision.

According to a report from ESPN, MLS’ updated version of their rule requires that two or more non-white candidates that are Black/African American be part of the finalist pool for open positions, and that organizations have to bring in candidates with comparable experiences/resumes — meaning that a team can’t bring in a Black assistant coach on a lower tier just to fulfill their “diversity quota,” which is something common in the NFL, like when the Cowboys brought in Marvin Lewis in 2020 — despite how he felt about the experience — at the last minute for an interview after he had been out of coaching for a few years.

“There is a commitment from across the organization to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive league, one that is reflective of who it is that we say we want to be,” Sola Winley, MLS’ executive vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer told ESPN.

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The new rules are also cracking down on the way that teams/companies like to push the envelope when it comes to the definition of “minority.”

“When you hear stories about people trying to pass off a Greek in there as a minority, then it just goes to show that [the policy] was not being taken very seriously,” said Colorado Rapids manager Robin Fraser, one of just three Black managers in MLS to ESPN. “I believe that [the new policy] will afford underrepresented people, and more specifically, Blacks, more real opportunities to be heard, to be seen. The whole objective is not to give anyone anything, not to give anyone handouts. It’s to create opportunities for people to showcase themselves.”


In October, the NFL updated the Rooney Rule by expanding it “to require teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for general manager/executive of football operations positions, and all coordinator roles.”

Since its creation in 2007, MLS’ rule is already further ahead in language and theory than the NFL’s. Sadly enough, this isn’t surprising given the league’s history which was highlighted by the Jon Gruden scandal, or how one of the NFL’s television partners — ESPN — did a segment on the chances of Kellen Moore — a white offensive coordinator — getting a head coaching job without mentioning Super Bowl champions Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich. The two Black OCs that met in last year’s Big Game.


It’s undoubtedly easier for MLS to make changes like this for a league that’s less profitable and powerful than the NFL — especially given that soccer’s global dominance automatically makes inclusion an easier sell. However, it goes deeper than that when discussing the NFL, as the Las Vegas Raiders are a prime example of just how passive the league and teams can be when it comes to putting forth the effort it takes to establish and maintain diversity.

In the late ‘80s, the Raiders made Art Shell the first Black coach in the modern era. Thirty years later, that same franchise was breaking the Rooney Rule as Raiders owner Mark Davis basically admitted to hiring Gruden before he fired then-head coach Jack Del Rio. The team skirted the Rooney Rule and brought Tee Martin and Bobby Johnson in for “show” interviews. Then, with Gruden in place, the Raiders hired Mike Mayock — a man with no prior front office experience — to be their general manager. According to reports, Gruden wanted Mayock, which meant the Rooney Rule wasn’t going to stop them.


So how do you fix a system this broken?

You burn the whole thing down.

But, honestly, at this point, it’s probably a lost cause — pointing to why MLS’ Rooney Rule makes the NFL’s look so shallow and powerless. The saddest part about it is that Roger Goodell probably has no idea that a soccer league has upstaged him in a field he was supposed to be a “leader” in.

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