NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced this week that the NFL would now have a “Rooney Rule for women” in an effort to get more women into executive positions in the league.
The Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires that teams in the league have to interview at least one minority candidate for each head coaching or senior football operation job that becomes available. But despite that rule, a recent study by professors at Georgetown found that the NFL’s coaching diversity problem has not been solved. In particular, the study found that “white position coaches and assistants in the NFL are more than twice as likely to be promoted to coordinator than their black counterparts, regardless of their performance, experience or coaching background.”
Still, Goodell championed the innovation at NFL’s First Annual Women’s Summit on Thursday. He didn’t offer any specifics about the implementation of the rule or the goals for it, but he told Lindsey Adler of BuzzFeed that the league is “already doing it.”
“We believe in diversity. We believe we’re better as an organization when we have good people at the table,” he said in a speech at the Summit. “We’re going to make that commitment, and we’re going to formalize that we as a league are going to do that for women as well as in all of our executive positions.”
The announcement has been called a “major step for diversity in the NFL.” However, Professor Chris I. Rider, the co-author of the Georgetown study on the racial disparities of NFL coaches, warns that this new implementation of the Rooney Rule could have the same pitfalls as the first.
“What our study shows is that if we’re just looking at promotions on the executive level, that neglects the lower-level processes that shape the candidate pool,” Rider told ThinkProgress. “The Rooney Rule shapes the interview list, but it doesn’t shape the candidate pool.”
In other words, this rule enough won’t be enough without a commitment to hiring and developing more women in lower levels throughout the league. Change can’t just start at the top level and trickle down — a pipeline has to be created.
Rider also expressed concerns that this announcement didn’t come with concrete goals and ways to measure the progress of the rule in the future. “The goal has to be based on the expectations without the implementation. Without that, there’s no accountability.”
This year, Sarah Thomas became the first full-time female referee in NFL history. Just last month, the Buffalo Bills made NFL history by hiring Kathryn Smith as the first full-time female coach in NFL history. However, it took Smith 13 years of experience just to get promoted to one of the lowest jobs in the coaching totem pole, special teams quality coach. Progress for women in the NFL has been painstakingly slow.
So while it certainly would be great to see more women in executive positions at the NFL, until more specifics are released, it’s hard not to see this as another example of the NFL pandering to women.