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Rooney Rule is having a positive effect

By Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 14, 2010; D02

Blog excerpt from views.washingtonpost.com/world-wide-wilbon

I'm going to use this specific space to take myself to task for being too critical in the specific instance of the application of the NFL's Rooney Rule as it pertains to the Seattle Seahawks.

It appeared to many of us that another team had circumvented the Rooney Rule when the Seahawks first hired Pete Carroll as their new head coach. There were reports that Leslie Frazier, the former Chicago Bears player who has been an assistant coach (now with the Vikings) had been asked to interview pretty much after the fact . . . after the Seahawks had settled on getting Carroll to leave Southern Cal.

In this space and on "Pardon the Interruption," I ripped the NFL and the Fritz Pollard Alliance for not taking the Seahawks to task. Well, turns out the club needed to be applauded, not taken to task. Not only did they not circumvent the rule, they approached Tony Dungy about running the club as the chief football executive before even approaching Carroll to coach. Now, running a team might not fall under the Rooney Rule, but it's far more important. Bringing in Dungy would speak much more to the issue of inclusion in football than hiring a coach. So, whether that counts as complying or not, since I was quick to criticize the Seahawks let me be quick to praise them and apologize for my rant.

Having said that, it doesn't mean every club is as forward-thinking as Seattle. The rule is an asset to the NFL because it seeks to make certain teams settle on the best and brightest hires by casting a wider net than club executives traditionally did. Major League Baseball actually did this before the NFL, leading men like Jerry Reinsdorf, who has been particularly forward-thinking in various areas of hiring, to make Ken Williams his general manager with the Chicago White Sox.

What happens, almost without fail, is that when people are forced to look at a bigger pool of candidates they find that some men they might not have interviewed without the rule aren't as different as once would have been thought. Put people in the same room for a conversation and often the decision makers say, "Wow, who the hell knew this guy was so sharp?" Relationships are formed. Recommendations are made. Even if Reinsdorf hadn't hired Williams, I'd like to think Reinsdorf would have said to one of his owner buddies, "Hey, if you're looking for a new GM you gotta talk to this guy Kenny Williams!" That's why the Rooney Rule is necessary, because even if the minority candidate isn't hired for that gig, he is suddenly in the chatter for the next gig.

Is that the way the rule is intended to work? Not necessarily. But it's so much better than what happened with minority hiring before the rule existed. Being effective in a secondary way, as I'm reminded by some black assistant coaches, is preferable to being out of the loop, which was the case previously. Leslie Frazier's name is on the lips of league executives in a way it wasn't last month, or would have been 20 years ago when owners and GMs couldn't be convinced to interview Tony Dungy for a head coaching job.

The notion is that since there appears to be circumvention of the Rooney Rule then the league is better off not having the rule. That's moronic.

If there is circumvention -- and John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance says there hasn't been so far this year -- the NFL needs to punish the people who circumvent. The NFL is a play-by-the-rules organization. Players who wear their socks improperly get fined. If that's important enough for the NFL to punish, certainly ignoring a league rule designed to ensure fair hiring is important enough to punish. The league owes that to its teams, its coaches, its players and its fans. And if it calls for Commissioner Roger Goodell to carry a big stick . . . and perhaps swing it, then so be it. It's a rule even the most powerful executives should be afraid to circumvent.

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