The Rooney Rule, which was enacted by the NFL in 2003, requires teams to interview at least one non-white candidate for head coaching vacancies. Though nearly 70 percent of NFL players were African American, just 6 percent of the coaches were before the NFL implemented the new policy. This season, a quarter of all teams are led by minority coaches, due in no small part to the Rooney Rule.
In the English Premier League (EPL), however, both the statistics and culture are even more daunting. For England’s top soccer league, the need is obvious: though more than a fifth of players are black, including some of its top stars like Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole, there are no black coaches. In fact, among England’s 92 league clubs, there are just two black coaches in total: Birmingham, a middling team in the second-ranked division, and Charlton, which plays in a division further below.
Even more problematic are the chronic displays of overt racism during matches. Though discrimination is certainly not confined to England – major incidents have occurred recently in Bulgaria and Russia, for instance – English fans taunting black players with monkey noises has been a persistent problem in the Premier League. In 2009, opposing fans threw bananas at El Hadji Diouf, a Senegalese striker for Blackburn Rovers. Even just a decade ago, a manager at a small club in southwest England was denied entrance to an away game because the security guard did not believe a black man was actually the coach.
With a dearth of black managers in the EPL and racism a continuing challenge, the league is now considering implementing some form of the Rooney Rule to encourage the hiring of minority candidates. They have even held preliminary discussions with American lawyer Cyrus Mehri, who designed the original NFL rule.
The policy does not force any team to hire minority candidates, but it does stipulate that teams must interview at least one. This small act has significantly increased the number of black head coaches in the NFL by simply exposing franchises to more candidates who might otherwise not have had a chance to present their skills. Look no further than Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach, and Lovie Smith, the Chicago Bears’ head coach. Both men have taken their teams to the Super Bowl (twice in Tomlin’s case, with one victory), but considering the tiny number of black head coaches pre-2003, it’s very possible that neither would even have gotten a head coaching interview without the Rooney Rule.
It’s a policy that the EPL is considering, and not a moment too soon. With superstar English players like Sol Campbell and Andy Cole nearing coaching age, it’d be a shame and a setback for the game if they were hindered from leading a team because of the color of their skin. Implementing the Rooney Rule and encouraging the hiring of more minorities would be a laudable step for the EPL.