Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Rooney Rule a Lot of Talk and Not Enough Action

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJune 12, 2019

DAVIE, FL - FEBRUARY 04: Stephen Ross Chairman & Owner, Brian Flores Head Coach, Chris Grier General Manager of the Miami Dolphins poses for the media after announcing Brian Flores as their new Head Coach at Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southern University on February 4, 2019 in Davie, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Rooney Rule is a lot of talk but not much more, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz get it and why Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans aren't seeing eye to eye. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

   

1. Rooney Rule failing in front offices

This is nothing against the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, who is excellent at his job, and at one point was under "serious consideration" for a front-office position with the Jets.

This is nothing against ESPN's Todd McShay, who is also good at his job, and has also been under consideration to join the Jets front office.

Nor anything against Mike Mayock, who was also good on television before he took the job as the general manager for the Raiders.

All three are excellent analysts. But do you notice anything similar about this trio? No, it's not their good looks. It's that there are no people of color in this group.

These weren't some executive assistant positions the three were up for but big-time jobs and opportunities. They are the types of jobs scouts dream of, the kinds of positions that can change long-tenured NFL grinders' lives. And while it may be unfair to say people of color are being totally excluded from these jobs, it is fair to say they are being mostly excluded from these jobs.

What the hiring of Mayock, and the interest in Jeremiah and McShay, illustrate is that the Rooney Rule continues to fail miserably, not just in trying to diversify the coaching ranks but also front offices.

Some of you will say: Thanks for writing on this topic.

Some of you will ask: Why are you playing the race card? (What's the credit limit on a race card anyway?)

This wouldn't be up for debate, however, if the NFL did a better job of addressing an issue the numbers make plain to see.

There are just three black head coaches out of 32 teams. There were eight coaching openings this offseason and only one black person, the Dolphins' Brian Flores, was hired. Flores is also Honduran, meaning he joined Ron Rivera as one of just two Latino coaches in the league.

The NFL has just one black general manager: Chris Grier of the Dolphins. Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, it was Grier who hired Flores.

The league's collective roster of players is approximately 70 percent black, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

This is what makes the interest in television personalities so problematic. Yes, I know some of them have previous personnel experience, but there is an army of black personnel talent already in the league who isn't getting looks. Guys like the Rams' Ray Agnew, who is the team's director of pro personnel.

The Rooney Rule mandates that teams interview a minority for head coaching and front-office positions (as well as league office positions). And while these interviews may be happening, the hirings aren't following.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

And before anyone assumes it's because there aren't enough people of color who qualify for the positions or who are good enough, it isn't, as one former high-ranking front office person told me.

"The Rooney Rule will never have the effect it was intended to have, other than to make teams interview a minority out of obligation," the person said. "Unless you can change people's preferences and make them truly feel comfortable going with/hiring candidates that don't look like them, then nothing is going to change."

This is the crucial point.

There remains a bias against candidates of color, and the numbers show this to be a fact. It's a problem the NFL hasn't been able to solve. Hell, society can't solve it, so, yes, in many ways it's unfair to ask football to decode racism.

But teams are using the Rooney Rule as cover, and then hiring whomever they want, instead of as an instrument to affect change. Most of the time the decision-makers on these NFL teams are white, and many (though not all) of them are choosing to hire from within, so to speak. Maybe it's a comfort level. Maybe it's because some see white people as more competent, or better prepared, for the positions. All those biases need to change.

This is the truth. It's an uncomfortable one, but it's accurate.

Until the league and owners start taking the rule seriously and not merely as a convenient sound bite, it will carry as little value as the paper it was written on.

   

2. Sometimes, blunt force is all that works

There's really only two ways to change things in NFL front offices when it comes to hiring people of color.

First: Wait until humans evolve until racism no longer exists. That won't happen until after humans have created the United Federation of Planets. Then you wouldn't need a Rooney Rule.

Or: You overhaul the Rooney Rule and mandate that NFL teams hire non-nepotism people of color for key front-office positions from a pool of NFL-approved candidates.

I know, I know. The word "mandate" is scary, and I'm not a huge fan of making companies hire people because of their color. The problem is little else is working, and there are plenty of qualified candidates. This may not be the best solution, but something like it needs to happen. The NFL's owners need to have this force-fed to them for a while before they make it part of their hiring DNA.

Bottom line: The Rooney Rule needs more teeth. A lot more.

  

3. Dak gets it

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 31: Dak Prescott attends SiriusXM at Super Bowl LIII Radio Row on January 31, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman recently echoed something a lot of Dak Prescott backers both in the Cowboys organization and on other teams have been saying for some time: Prescott has not only the talent to play quarterback but, just as important, the mentality.

"I think that when you're evaluating quarterbacks coming to a team and essentially being the CEO and the face of your franchise, how do they handle a lot of different situations?" Aikman asked during a radio interview with 1310 The Ticket (via Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Star-Telegram). "But now, that's another layer that they have to concern themselves with—how do they deal with social media?

"When we were playing, the criticisms were from the media, and sometimes that was a little bit intense. But now, everyone has a platform, everybody can fire off whatever it is they're thinking, and I think it does take a really mature person, someone who's wired the right way in order to be able to handle all that.

"And when you're talking about — I thought I got paid a lot when I played — but the money is a lot. You're making a real commitment to these players when you commit those kinds of dollars, and I think everything has to be looked at, and that's why I think Dak, for a lot of reasons ... is perfect for this franchise, for this city in the way he's able to handle himself."

In many ways, being able to handle a hypersocial football media culture is a vastly underrated aspect of being a quarterback today. Prescott handles it well, as Aikman and a lot of other people around the NFL have noticed.

   

4. 40 yards of…maybe?

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

If you haven't heard, 40 Yards of Gold is a made-for-TV tournament of 40-yard dashes between some of the NFL's fastest men, including the Saints' Alvin Kamara and the 49ers' Marquise Goodwin.

The event sounds fun in theory, but I still don't believe teams will allow some of their best players to do this and risk hamstring pulls or other leg injuries in races that mean nothing. My guess is by the time this race happens the only people running in it will be Tom Cruise and Justin Bieber.

There's one other potential problem: Who will pay to watch it?

The race, which is scheduled for June 29, will be available on pay-per-view for $39.95, according to John Ourand of the SportsBusiness Journal (via Pro Football Talk).

I love watching races, but $40? That's gonna be a no from me, dawg.

There's a good chance I won't be the only one.

  

5. Ready, willing and well-paid

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Being a starting quarterback in the NFL comes with a certain amount of pressure. When you're making $128 million over four years, that can make things even tougher. The Eagles' Carson Wentz knows, which is why he didn't shy away from the notion that the contract extension ($107 million of it guaranteed, according to Spotrac) he just signed brings with it an expected level of scrutiny.

"I've said this in the past: When you sign up to play this game, you're welcoming that pressure," Wentz told reporters, according to a team transcript. "That's just part of it. No matter what's happened in the past, no matter what's expected of you in the future, there is always that pressure. For me, that's not going to change how I prepare, how I focus, how I go out and compete every game.

"You just kind of have to block it out a little bit and just keep doing what you know how to do. That's just keep getting better every single day. Like I said, the pressure is always going to be there, so never let it bog me down."

If Wentz stays healthy (and that's a huge if), he isn't likely to find many critics of his deal this fall.

   

6. Head health

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 22:  Nick Hardwick #61 of the San Diego Chargers plays against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on September 22, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Former Chargers center Nick Hardwick estimates he took more than 25,000 hits to his head over an 11-year NFL career and three years of college play. That's a stunning number.

To his credit, he recently opted to engage in a six-week course of evaluation and treatment at the Brain Treatment Center in San Diego, as he detailed in a recent piece for Football Morning in America. The center, operated by a former Navy SEAL, treats many in the military not only to understand how their brains have been altered by their jobs but also how they can retrain those brains to improve cognitive function. This is the type of self-examination that many players should do once their careers end.

Hardwick knows that a life in football is far different than a life in the military, but the physical trauma to the brain can be similar. That should tell you all you need to know about how brutal a game football can be.

   

7. An unnecessary delay

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

News in the Tyreek Hill abuse case continues to churn. And while the league appears to be waiting for law enforcement to complete its investigation, it's helpful to remember that the NFL doesn't need to.

The NFL can still discipline Hill even without proof he hurt his child, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk explained. The league's investigatory process is a potluck; you never know what the NFL will do. But Hill could be suspended right now just for threatening Crystal Espinal, the mother of their son. (Hill is on tape saying, "You need to be terrified of me, too, b---h.")

Threats are covered by the personal conduct policy, and Commissioner Roger Goodell can pretty much do whatever he wants when it comes to discipline.

Yet here we all wait, wondering when the NFL will finally get one of these player behavior cases right. Don't hold your breath it will be any time soon.

   

8. No end in sight for AP

Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

We've marveled at Tom Brady playing at a high level at 41 years old. There's another player also defying time, and it's running back Adrian Peterson.

In many ways, a running back doing what Peterson is doing at 34 is more impressive than what Brady is doing. Peterson gets hit on most plays, while Brady gets hit on occasion.

Peterson is another example of how while the game remains incredibly violent, some players today, because of almost futuristic training and diet regimens, can play longer and at a higher level. (What this means in terms of long-term mental health for these players is a different topic.)

So how long can he play? It wouldn't be too shocking if he stayed in the NFL and played at a high level for another two or three years. For his part, Peterson, who wants to retire as a Minnesota Viking, does not see his playing days coming to an end soon, according to Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune.

I've doubted Peterson before in terms of his longevity. I won't make that mistake again.

   

9. Houston, we have a problem

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

I've written a few times before that contract talks between Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and the team could get dicey. ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported he was expected to skip mandatory minicamp this week, and Clowney did.

The Texans want to sign Clowney to a long-term deal but haven't been able to reach an agreement yet. Though the Texans franchise-tagged him in March, Clowney reportedly wants a deal paying him north of $20 million a season, according to Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com. With Clowney unlikely to back down, this standoff could remain a problem well into training camp.

   

10. Greatness, an appreciation

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

The Patriots handed out their Super Bowl rings last week, and some of the images were impressive, especially the six Tom Brady showed off.

Sometimes, because there is so much Patriots hatred, we don't stop to think about the remarkable level of success they've had. We don't stop to think about how we will likely never see anything like this again.

It's not just the six Super Bowls. It's also how the Patriots have still won despite a division full of teams, a conference full of teams and a league full of teams dedicated to stopping them. Little has worked.

On occasion, even if you despise the Patriots for winning so much but you love football, and greatness, just take a moment, one moment, to appreciate what you're seeing.

It may make you nauseous.

But it won't kill you.

           

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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