Civil rights leaders call on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to replace Rooney Rule

LOS ANGELES -- A group of civil rights leaders called for replacing the Rooney Rule in a meeting Monday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Seeking specific recruiting and hiring procedures for NFL executive and coaching positions, they also sought "meaningful consequences for teams that do not abide by the rules."

National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial, National Action Network Founder and President Rev. Al Sharpton, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President and CEO Melanie Campbell, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson and National African American Clergy Network co-convener Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner requested the meeting after former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores accused the NFL and three teams -- the Giants, Broncos and Dolphins -- of racial discrimination in a proposed class-action lawsuit last week.

The Rooney Rule was established in 2003 and requires teams to interview candidates of color for head-coaching and senior football operation positions.

"However well-intentioned, the effect of the Rooney Rule has been for team decision-makers to regard interviews with candidates of color as an extraneous step, rather than an integral part of the hiring process," Morial said. "The gravity of the situation is long past the crisis point."

There were three Black head coaches during the 2021 season, but Flores and Houston's David Culley were fired in January. Flores was replaced by Mike McDaniel, who is multiracial, while Culley was succeeded by Lovie Smith, who is Black and twice has been an NFL head coach.

"The Rooney Rule has been proven to be something the owners used to deceptively appear to be seeking real diversity," Sharpton said. "We must have firm targets and timetables."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said of the meeting that was held virtually: "We had a productive and thoughtful conversation as the NFL shares the goal of ensuring that everyone has equitable access to opportunity. We look forward to continuing the dialogue."

The leaders said they welcomed Goodell's previous announcement of an independent review of the NFL's diversity, equity and inclusion policies and initiatives. They noted that the civil rights and racial justice community must be part of that review.

"It's simply not enough for the league to declare its good intentions," Johnson said. "This is a longstanding crisis that must be confronted with diligence and rigor."

Williams-Skinner added that Flores' action could be a catalyst for change.

"We agree that coach Flores' lawsuit presents the league with an opportunity to engage in substantive change and we will do everything in our power to make sure that opportunity is not squandered," she said.