John Wooten, the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, rarely takes issue with arguably questionable efforts by NFL teams to comply with the letter and spirit of the Rooney Rule. With respect to Cleveland’s bang-bang hiring of G.M. John Dorsey, on the same day executive V.P. of football operations Sashi Brown was fired, Wooten isn’t happy.
“I think John Dorsey is a very top quality G.M.,” Wooten told Jarrett Bell of USA Today. “I am livid that the Browns would totally ignore the work all of us to make the Rooney Rule meaningful.”
The Browns contend that they complied with the Rooney Rule. Like the Chiefs earlier this year, however, the Browns have declined to disclose how and when they complied. Based on a separate statement that Wooten gave to ESPN, it appears that the Browns did not comply by interviewing one of the recommended minority candidates.
Some have suggested that the Browns complied via a vague interview of former 49ers coach Mike Singletary, which occurred in recent weeks. But how could Singletary be regarded as a viable candidate to be a General Manager? He got into coaching more than a decade after his playing career ended, and he has never worked as a scout. The notion that he’d instantly be qualified to be a G.M. is nearly as laughable as someone buying a team and making himself the G.M. (which has been done, amazingly).
It’s also unclear whether the Browns complied with the Rooney Rule by interviewing minority candidates before Brown was fired. Washington pulled that move when hiring Mike Shanahan to replace Jim Zorn, interviewing then-assistant Jerry Gray before actually firing Zorn. The league regarded that ruse as sufficient compliance with the Rooney Rule.
Yes, the Browns have a minority head coach and had, until today, a minority executive who ran the entire football operation. But there’s no exception to the Rooney Rule based on past hires; as to coaching, G.M., and other high-level jobs, at least one minority candidate must be interviewed.
Even if the Browns found a way to clumsily check the box, the spirit of the rule apparently was ignored. And it’s likely that the league, based on an established lack of diligence and transparency in matters of this nature, will not be inclined to find that a violation occurred.
The fact that the league will give the Browns a pass doesn’t mean Wooten, the media, or anyone else should. If a rule on the books isn’t going to be respected, the rule should be scrapped. And in the same year that the man for whom the rule was named died, it would be nice to see teams go out of their way to honor the rule — especially when the team in question is currently owned by someone who previously owned a significant chunk of the Steelers.