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If King could see the NFL today .â€‚.â€‚.â€‚
This article first appeared on BASN January 19 2011MILWAUKEE — The days after the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, I find myself thinking about the so-called Rooney Rule in the National Football League.
(It is Packers/Bears week, after all.)
The NFL has a rule — named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney — that requires all teams to interview a qualified minority candidate before making a final decision on hiring a white candidate.
It’s a landmark form of affirmative action by a major U.S. corporation intended to ensure more diversity in hiring that has achieved the desired results.
This weekend’s conference championship games will feature not one but two African-American head coaches — Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Chances are neither would be a head coach today without the Rooney Rule.
Just like black quarterbacks, it’s no longer a surprise to see an African-American football coach on the sidelines, but it was just 10 years ago.
Curiously, the Rooney Rule, adopted in 2003, also means that when the Minnesota Vikings had an opening for head football coach, there was no need for any white candidates to apply.
The Vikings already had an African-American — Leslie Frazier — serving as interim coach. When the owner hired Frazier full time, there was no requirement to give anybody else a chance.
Sometimes you have to wonder if that’s really what we mean by equal opportunity.
The question about the Rooney Rule arose during a conversation with a friend sparked by recent news that former Green Bay Packers head coach Ray Rhodes had announced his retirement from professional football.
Rhodes had been working as assistant defensive back coach for the Houston Texans, but many readers remember he was the first African-American coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1999. Rhodes lasted just one rocky year with the Pack, finishing 8-8. For many Packers fans, and the organization, it wasn’t enough.
I defended Rhodes back then, but I couldn’t criticize the Packers because at least they had given him a chance.
The week before King Day, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that even with the election of President Barack Obama, only about a third of all Americans feel race relations have significantly improved.
Almost half of whites said blacks have achieved racial parity, but most blacks were significantly less optimistic — only 19% agreed with that statement. That suggests there’s still much work to be done.
Many like to play the “What would Martin Luther King Jr. think if he was alive today?” game. So do I.
I think King would be proud of President Obama but dismayed by the way some people still question his racial background and religious beliefs.
I think King would be honored so many streets, schools and public buildings were named after him, but dismayed by the violence, crime and underperforming black students at some of those locations.
I think King would continue to push America to be better than it is and hope for the day there was no need for a Rooney rule to ensure everybody received a fair shot at success.
I also think he would be rooting for the Packers against Chicago next Sunday, although I admit I have no way of knowing that for sure.
But then, there’s no denying King was a very wise man.