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NFL is reviewing whether Washington Football Team complied with Rooney Rule

Washington’s NFL team hired Terry Bateman and Julie Donaldson to executive positions in the front office this week. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The NFL is reviewing whether the Washington Football Team complied with the Rooney Rule during the hiring process leading to the appointments of two front-office executives this week, the league said Thursday.

“The NFL is reviewing the matter with the team to understand the facts,” the league said in a written statement.

The league’s announcement came after the diversity group that works with the NFL on its hiring practices said it was making inquiries to try to determine whether there was compliance with the rule when the team hired Terry Bateman and Julie Donaldson.

“The Fritz Pollard Alliance has sent inquiries to the NFL and to the Washington Football Team regarding the hiring process for Terry Bateman and Julie Donaldson,” the Fritz Pollard Alliance said in a written statement delivered by Rod Graves, its executive director.

The team announced Monday that it had named Bateman its executive vice president and chief marketing officer. That gave the organization its first official in charge of its non-football operations since it fired Bruce Allen as team president at the end of last season. Bateman will oversee the team’s pending name change and rebranding after it announced this month that it would retire the name Redskins. He previously had served as an adviser to team owner Daniel Snyder while working as an outside consultant.

The team announced Thursday that it would temporarily call itself the Washington Football Team.

Donaldson was hired by the team Tuesday to be its vice president of media and a member of its radio broadcast team. She became the franchise’s highest-ranking woman. Donaldson is believed to be the first woman to be a full-time member of an NFL team’s radio broadcast booth.

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The moves came after The Washington Post reported last week that 15 female former employees of the team accused former club officials of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. Donaldson replaced Larry Michael, who announced his retirement last week and was one of the former team officials accused of inappropriate conduct by the women. Donaldson will not take over Michael’s radio play-by-play duties, however.

The NFL’s minority hiring rule is called the Rooney Rule in honor of Dan Rooney, the late Pittsburgh Steelers owner and former chairman of the league’s workplace diversity committee. The rule has required that a team with a vacancy at certain positions interview at least one minority candidate. It initially applied to head coaching vacancies but was expanded over the years to include other positions. It was bolstered in May to require that at least two minority candidates from outside the organization be interviewed for any head coaching vacancy.

The league also announced in May that the rule would apply, for the first time, to a wide range of executive positions. That announcement said that teams “must now include minorities and/or female applicants in the interview processes for senior level front office positions such as club president and senior executives in communications, finance, human resources, legal, football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology, and security positions.” The NFL said that its own league office also would adhere to those requirements.

“The NFL is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which I believe is critical to our continued success,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement accompanying the league’s May announcement of those enhancements to the rule. “While we have seen positive strides in our coaching ranks over the years aided by the Rooney Rule, we recognize, after the last two seasons, that we can and must do more. The policy changes made today are bold and demonstrate the commitment of our ownership to increase diversity in leadership positions throughout the league.”

The changes in May came with the league facing scrutiny and criticism following a firing and hiring cycle for head coaches in which only one minority head coach was hired. That was Ron Rivera by Washington. The NFL has only four minority head coaches: Rivera, Mike Tomlin with the Steelers, Anthony Lynn with the Los Angeles Chargers and Brian Flores with the Miami Dolphins.

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Teams face potential discipline by the NFL for noncompliance with the Rooney Rule. The league determines compliance issues, with the Fritz Pollard Alliance serving a watchdog role.

It is not clear whether the hiring of a woman represents compliance with the rule if no minority candidate was interviewed. It appeared that the league’s focus was on the process by which Bateman was hired.

Washington also could be disciplined by the league over the allegations in The Post’s report. The team initiated an investigation overseen by D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson. The NFL said it would consider potential disciplinary measures after reviewing the findings of that investigation. According to multiple people familiar with the NFL’s inner workings, the league and owners are not expected to take steps to attempt to force Snyder to sell the franchise, barring further developments implicating Snyder directly.