The failure of the Rooney Rule

Affirmative action cannot work in a meritocracy:

The proof is hiding in plain sight; currently, minority coaches and executives are dwindling, not thriving, in the NFL. Only one African-American coach or G.M. has control over a football operation, and Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome will be retiring at season’s end. That will leave no coach, no General Manager, no V.P. of player personnel, no one who has practical or contractual final say over the construction of an NFL roster.

If Chris Grier remains in Miami (his status is unclear), he’ll be the only minority G.M. when the dust settles on 2018. For coaches, it could become nearly as bad. With Hue Jackson already out in Cleveland, and Vance Joseph, Todd Bowles, and Steve Wilks expected to be fired in Denver, New York, and Arizona, respectively, the NFL will have only four minority coaches: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin (whom many locals want to see fired), Bengals coach Marvin Lewis (who could be out), Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera (who’s currently expected to be safe).

That’s not what the league or the Fritz Pollard Alliance envisioned more than 15 years ago, when the standard named for the late Dan Rooney first emerged as a device for rectifying decades of unfairly biased hiring practices by NFL teams, as demonstrated by the raw numbers.

The problem is a straightforward one of distributed intelligence among the various population demographics. The complexity of modern NFL offenses and defenses strongly favors intelligence. It’s no longer enough to be a confident leader of men with charisma and personal discipline. And it’s not an accident that Bill Belichick, despite his personality and character flaws, has become the most successful coach in NFL history, as he is one of the most intelligent and studious men to ever coach a team, and he surrounds himself with highly intelligent assistants and players.

All that forcing more black coaches and executives on the NFL is likely to do is to reveal their intellectual shortcomings in comparison with their smarter white colleagues. What did giving Hue Jackson an additional year to fail at a historic level accomplish? Affirmative action is nothing but enshrining the Peter Principle in law; it guarantees systematic failure. And while it might unearth the occasional pearl, it is much more likely to expose the overmatched and the fraudulent in an embarrassing manner.

The black coach challenge is the exact opposite of the black quarterback issue of the 1980s. As playcalling moved to the sidelines and coaches were allowed to communicate directly with their quarterbacks, the cognitive challenge of playing quarterback was temporarily reduced, making the position more viable for less intelligent players. But even that trend has now been reversed, as the increasing importance of pre-snap reading of the defensive formations and quickly going through the route progressions has caused it to rise again.

The only way to salvage the purpose of the Rooney Rule is to systematically reduce the requirements for cognitive capacity among NFL coaches and executives. I leave the likelihood of that ever happening to the reader.


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