Original Content: Diversity Hiring – What We Can Learn from the NFL

Original Content: Diversity Hiring – What We Can Learn from the NFL
By Dan Brown
Emory University School of Medicine

At an open forum at the ASPE conference in Kansas City the topic of diversity among ASPE membership arose. While there was some difference of opinion on whether we’re diversifying enough over time, there was general agreement that the membership would like to see more diversity. This discussion got me thinking about the National Football League’s famous “Rooney Rule,” and how it applies to our work. The main question ASPE and the NFL have in common is:

Who are we grooming?

The Rooney Rule is named for former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, and “requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations opportunities” (source: Fritz Pollard Alliance). It’s a simple rule that ensures that minority candidates will have access to opportunities, and it has been somewhat successful: there were 2 minority head coaches when it was instituted (out of 32 teams), and there are now 8. But that number is still low, considering that the overwhelming majority of players are African-American, and most coaches are former players.

The most frequent criticism of the Rooney Rule is that many coaches are brought in to satisfy the requirement, but not taken seriously as candidates. This is indeed a problem. If you know who you want to hire, and you’re only bringing in a minority candidate for appearances, you’re not solving the problem. It’s also a problem without a solution.

There’s another criticism that is solvable, and very much applies to us as SP Educators. Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle describes it: “The biggest problem with the Rooney Rule is that it doesn’t apply to the primary pool from which head coaches are drawn: team coordinators. While there are plenty of minorities working as position coaches, not many become coordinators, the job that puts them directly on the path to head coaching.” Minorities aren’t getting the jobs that lead to head coaching jobs. One could even argue that the problem goes down farther: minority candidates aren’t even getting the jobs that lead to the jobs that lead to head coaching jobs—quarterbacks coaches, offensive line coaches, and linebacker coaches are the ones who are most frequently promoted to coordinator.

Are we doing this with our SPs as well? Most SP Educators were SPs first. Many, like myself, were SPs who were then given some additional responsibilities: event assistant, administrative help, case trainer, etc. I was groomed for my position for years before I got it. I’m imagining this is the case at many of our institutions.

At the end of the day, NFL teams and SP programs alike need to hire the best person for the job. The question to ask ourselves is can we be doing more to help minority candidates become the best person for the job?

Who are we grooming?

For more, read What Corporations Can Learn About Diversity From The NFL's Rooney Rule at Forbes.

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