Some worry that revised Rooney Rule will invite litigation

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The NFL consists of 32 businesses but ultimately it’s one business. And this makes non-players who want to continue to pursue a career in pro football very leery about pursuing legal claims against one team, because this can preemptively burn bridges to the other 31.

That sort of retaliation is wrong, and illegal. While retaliation may enhance or expand existing legal claims, it will keep a head coach or assistant coach or any other team employee whose skills are tied only to football from finding a job with another NFL team.

As a result, potential legal claims that could be made by coaches who are fired from or passed over for jobs routinely aren’t, given the possibility that filing a lawsuit against one team will slam the door on a coach’s career with any NFL team. And it’s not just race that has been a problem for the NFL; concerns of age discrimination have percolated over the years, too. Still, no one has taken action.

Discrimination cases usually are very difficult to prove. Such claims require skillful lawyering that pushes past obvious and predictable denials from defense witnesses to uncover subtle bias (often through different standards applied to different employees), given that modern businesses know not to leave smoking guns of discrimination evidence laying around. That fact, coupled with the likely inability to find work with another NFL team, has kept the league’s teams (and the league itself) from ever facing a discrimination lawsuit from a coach.

The proposed changes to the Rooney Rule may change that. Multiple sources have expressed to PFT a concern that a draft-standing incentive to hire a minority coach or G.M. could be the tipping point that prompts a non-minority coach or G.M. who ends up without a job that goes to a minority candidate to pull the pin on a litigation grenade.

The most likely plaintiff would be an older coach or front-office executive, who already was closing in on calling it a career. Another candidate to sue would be a coach who decides to ditch the NFL for good, heading to the college game for the balance of his time left in the sport.

Regardless of who it may be, the stew of risks and rewards that must be considered before filing a lawsuit becomes greatly enhanced by a policy that makes race a clear factor in the hiring of coaches and General Managers. Thus, the revised policy (if passed) already has sparked concern that litigation is inevitable.

The broader question, of course, is whether the revised policy would allow a non-minority coach or G.M. to prove discrimination. The league surely believes the proposed rule is fine. An upcoming item at PFT will take a closer look at the legal side of using a specific reward to entice teams to hire minority coaches and General Managers.

27 responses to “Some worry that revised Rooney Rule will invite litigation

  1. There should be litigation. Discriminating against anyone who is qualified is illegal.

  2. The Rooney rule should be illegal as it is. Somebody should win a lot of money and end this foolishness

  3. Sad that race is still an issue in a hiring process. Insane that it’s legal to do it.

  4. The NFL is playing with a pandora’s box that they will regret messing with if it is opened up.

  5. Yeah, well, ridiculous ideas that actually get put into motion in the real world generally do lead to litigation… This is not kindergarten class!

  6. The funny thing is That when all is said and done teams are still going to hire the people that they feel are most qualified, regardless of race, creed or color and not worry about the being penalized in the draft. The bottom line is that if you get bumped back in the 3rd round it is less of a penalty than having an incompetent coach on your team that somebody forced you to hire.

  7. Everyone needs to start questioning everything about this league. Their needs to be a concerted effort for more white athletes to be recruited into college and then get drafted. I find it hard to believe white players cannot play WR, CB, S or RB. They are ignored as high school athletes and the system encourages all teams to recruit black players. The fallacy that blacks are better football players needs to be seriously examined.

  8. The most likely plaintiff would be an older coach or front-office executive, who already was closing in on calling it a career.

    No, it could be a team owner suing because a division rival who just hired a black coach moved up in the draft and gained an unfair advantage.

    For instance, should a team like the Patriots get screwed because the Jets hire a black coach and Kraft won’t fire Belichick to hire one? The person who thought up this change has a mental illness.

  9. Rooney Rule must go. Period. Be good at what you do. If you’re qualified and a minority and are still shut out? Then start your own (fill in the blank). A business owner reserves the right to hire who he/she wants.

  10. If I were a minority coaching candidate, I’d feel like this rule is a slap in the face. NFL is basically saying we know you aren’t the best candidate, but we’ll give the team a little incentive to hire you to make it better. Forcing teams into situations like this makes it worse.

  11. Simple fix: Only teams with a minority head coach get a first round draft pick. Teams without a minority head coach forfeit their first round pick to one of the teams with a minority head coach based on won/loss record. In other words if 16 teams have a minority head coach they would each get two first round picks. That is assuming the NFL continues to exist.

  12. Job should go to the most qualified person, period. A mistake like this could be the beginning of the end for Goofy Goodell.

  13. If this proposed amendment to the Rooney Rule passes and is then litigated to its conclusion; it would be thrown out by the Supreme Court in a 9-0 vote.

    Frankly the proposal borders on insane, never mind it’s perhaps the most overtly racist idea ever floated by a leader in the U.S. entertainment business.

  14. If I were a billionaire, I would never let some organization bully me into hiring an executive for my multi-billion dollar business. I’d hire the most qualified candidate who I believe can increase the value of my multi-billion dollar business regardless of physical attributes.

    Minority candidates want to get the job the right way because then they have the support of ownership if the team isn’t wining at first (Dolphins HC Brian Flores). If they are some Rooney Rule hire to get a better draft pick, then the minority HC or GM will be easy scapegoats to blame failure on and fire after a bad season (Former Cardinals HC Steve Wilks).

  15. The NFL doesn’t owe anyone a job. It doesn’t even owe them a shot or interview. Many minority coaches have proven that if they win, they’ll get hired.

  16. It’s little known but this is how Goodell ended up being the commissioner. The NFL also has a Looney Rule and they didn’t meet their quota of goofballs in the front office.

  17. Michael E says:
    May 17, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    For instance, should a team like the Patriots get screwed because the Jets hire a black coach and Kraft won’t fire Belichick to hire one?


    The proposed change doesn’t apply only to head coaching positions; it would cover position and coordinator jobs, as well.

    So, when one of the Pats coordinators leaves Foxborough to flail and flounder as a HC somewhere else as they inevitably do upon leaving NE, Kraft can replace him with a minority coach and get improved draft positioning or a compensatory fourth round pick. No need for Belichick to leave.

  18. So does everything else.

    I just hope they don’t call it the Rooney Rule. I also hope they don’t accept it. Unfortunately you can’t really change hearts with stuff like this. Often creates more resentment. Like we need that. Now.

  19. The proposed new rule sounds silly.

    But, a lot of you who are blustering about ‘you should be able to hire whoever you want’ do not seem to understand the original Rooney Rule. It only stated that you have to interview a minority candidate. It did not require a team to hire anyone. But, don’t let the facts get in your way.

  20. The Rooney Rule was stupid to begin with, and now they want to pay teams to talk to black coaches. This smacks of the quota system colleges used for years until someone sued them and it was found unlawful. If a coach is competent and fits a teams needs, he’ll be hired, black or white.

    And if you need a rule like this to get a quota, maybe you also need to pay teams to get more white players into the NFL. Right now the NFL has around 70% black players. Clearly this discriminates against whites whether they are competent or not.

  21. The league should be more concerned of all the arrest lately of the players and the tarnish they continue to put on the league.

  22. R D says:
    May 17, 2020 at 12:57 pm
    If this proposed amendment to the Rooney Rule passes and is then litigated to its conclusion; it would be thrown out by the Supreme Court in a 9-0 vote.


    I’d say 8-1. Sonia Sotomayor would almost certainly give it a thumbs up.

  23. It is inherently racist because it judges people on things they can’t change no matter the effort or study — their race and gender. That type of insanity went out with 2016.

  24. Racial preferences are straight up racism, plain and simple. Call it what you want, but we all know exactly what this is.

    Some may think the ends justify the means, but this doesn’t make it any less vile.

  25. What they should be more concerned about is how many fans this nonsense drives away.

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