Of all the contributions Dan Rooney made to the NFL, the Rooney Rule was the most important and far reaching.
The policy on minority hiring that carries his name has been adopted not only by other sports but by businesses and organizations nationwide.
His death came days before baseball honors Jackie Robinson on Saturday, the 70th anniversary of the end to racial segregation in the game. And Rooney, a white man from Pittsburgh, left his mark as a groundbreaker as well.
The Pittsburgh Steelers owner, who died Thursday at 84, was approached by several groups concerned with the lack of opportunities for coaching and front-office jobs in the NFL. In 2002, the Fritz Pollard Alliance reached out to Rooney.
“We knew that Mr. Rooney would be a mighty ally, and he was,” Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten and executive director Harry Carson, said in an email. “As chairman of the league’s workplace diversity committee, he worked tirelessly to ensure that the league’s other owners acknowledged the diversity and inclusion challenges that the league faced, and that they committed to increasing and broadening opportunity.”
The Rooney Rule was adopted in 2003. It requires that all NFL clubs interview at least one person of color when seeking to fill a head coach opening. Since then, the Rooney Rule has been expanded to general manager jobs. A similar rule requires that a woman be interviewed for every business front-office position that opens in the league.
Indeed, since 2007, there have been 10 Super Bowl teams with either a minority head coach or general manager.
Roger Goodell often has pointed to the Rooney Rule as one of the major achievements in his decade as commissioner. In February, during Super Bowl week, Goodell announced the NFL’s expansion of the initiative to include women for front-office positions, lauding the rule Rooney helped design and put in place.
“You can see that progress is being made,” Goodell said. “And our commitment is we have something called the Rooney Rule, which requires us to make sure when we have an opening, that on the team or the league level, that we are going to interview a diverse slate of candidates.
“Well, we’re going to make that commitment and we’re going to formalize that we, as a league, are going to do that with women as well in all of our executive positions. Again, we’re going to keep making progress here and make a difference.”
The Rooney Rule spurred movement outside pro football. Facebook and Xerox are among the companies with a similar policy. So do some municipalities, including Portland, Oregon.
Many organizations have reached out to the NFL about how best to implement the rule.
“It has influenced thinking from federal government agencies to European sports leagues,” Wooten and Carson said in their email. “The Rooney Rule and its influence are a tribute to the man, but only one of many.
“Mr. Rooney loved the NFL and he loved his country, and when called upon by President Barack Obama to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, he took leave of one to serve the other, and he did so brilliantly. Mr. Rooney left an indelible mark on the league and on the world.”