Volume 82, Number 3

June 2007

Tackling Unconscious Bias in Hiring Practices: The Plight of the Rooney Rule

Brian W. Collins

This Note analyzes the National Football League’s (NFL) 2002 decision to implement an innovative—and controversial—policy aimed at increasing the League’s number of minority head coaches. Designated the “Rooney Rule,” the policy mandates that every NFL team interview at least one minority candidate upon the vacancy of a head coaching position or be subjected to a significant monetary fine. Despite ongoing allegations that it promotes tokenism and is a form of reverse discrimination, the Rule has reached uncharted success. While other professional sports with large minority populations (e.g., the National Basketball Association) have succeeded in integrating their head coaching positions over the past twenty years without analogous action, this Note argues that the pre–Rooney Rule NFL hiring process remained relatively static because decisionmakers unwittingly held (and often still hold) archaic biases regarding the intellectual ability of minority candidates to handle the high degree of organizational complexity in football. By deftly traversing the line between “soft” and “hard” variants of affirmative action, the Rule has proven effective because it forces decisionmakers harboring this unconscious bias to expand previously restricted coaching networks and come face-to-face with a candidate they would never have considered otherwise.