Document Type


Publication Date

January 2008


The National Football League (the "NFL" or the "League"), like the National Basketball Association (the "NBA") and Major League Baseball ("MLB"), has a long history of racial exclusion.' And like these other long standing American professional sports leagues, desegregation among players preceded desegregation among coaches. As slowly increasing numbers of minorities assumed NBA head coaching positions and MLB managing positions toward the end of the twentieth century, however, minority NFL coaches were less likely to receive head coaching opportunities than their basketball and baseball counterparts. Indeed, as of 2002, only two of the NFL's thirty-two head coaches were minorities, and only five, including those two, had held head coaching positions during the League's modem era. Four years later, however, the NFL had more than tripled its number of minority head coaches and shone as a model for other athletic institutions seeking to provide head coaching candidates equal employment opportunities. This article seeks to explore the history of racial exclusion in the NFL, the particular barriers minority coaches seeking NFL head coaching positions have faced, and the effort to level the playing field for such coaches. Part I of this article traces the NFL's initial expulsion of African Americans, its eventual reintegration, and the patterns accompanying that reintegration. Part I1 explores the travails of the NFL's first three post-reintegration coaches of color as well as statistical evidence revealing that, as of 2002, NFL coaches of color generally suffered inferior opportunities despite exhibiting outstanding performance. Part III examines the campaign launched by attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. to alter NFL teams' hiring practices, the creation of the Rooney Rule (the "Rule"), and the birth of the Fritz Pollard Alliance of minority coaches, scouts, and front office personnel in the NFL. Finally, Part IV traces the Rooney Rule's success in creating equal opportunity for coaches of color in the NFL.

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