What Rooney Wrought
The Rooney Rule and our silly rituals of diversity.

Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith


Daniel Foster

During the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” came to symbolize what those on the Left alleged was the candidate’s mechanical, formalistic approach to gender diversity. But the Rooney Rule encourages just this kind of perfunctory thinking — the addition of at least one candidate from a binder full of minorities to a list of prospects selected for other reasons. Thus demeaning and wasting the time of said minorities is rendered acceptable because it is in the service of a noble cause.

This is connected with another odd truth: Diversity as a political and cultural program is not evenhanded but arbitrary and idiosyncratic — diversity counts only if it is the right kind of diversity. Consider that about 70 percent of NFL players are minorities and that, of the highest-paid players on each of the league’s 32 franchises, about 60 percent are minorities. Consider further that the latter percentage is likely to grow since starting quarterbacks, the scarcest commodity in the league, are skewing less white as the position rapidly evolves. Yet there is no national conversation about the dearth of white halfbacks or shutdown corners. This is because, despite much of the rhetoric employed by its proponents, diversity is not about randomizing, or even proportionately distributing, access across the gene pool. It’s about securing access for particular groups to particular institutions — usually those perceived as bastions of white-male privilege.

This might or might not be a laudable goal, but consistent application of it certainly creates some awkward situations. When some liberal pundits bemoaned that the deficit “supercommittee” (which now seems an ancient memory) lacked sufficient representation from women and minorities, I asked them (and was greeted with rolling eyes) whether they’d support the appointment of Allen West or Michele Bachmann.

And not only must diversity be the right kind of diversity, but it must be ever expanding, measurable both synchronically and diachronically, and robust in the face of occasional outliers, random or otherwise. As my colleague Charlie Cooke has pointed out, something like this conviction is motivating the complaints about President Obama’s emerging cabinet. Presidents Clinton and Bush made strides in diversifying the executive, and the whitening of the country’s first black president’s staff is seen not as accidental or statistical, but pernicious and retrograde. Three of the four most recent secretaries of state have been women, two have been black, and one has been a black woman. That we stand to see the return of a white male to that office is tsk-tsked in some quarters, as if the legacies of Madams Clinton, Rice, and Albright, and of Mr. Powell, are so vanishingly delicate that they need to be vigilantly maintained. But legacies are made of sterner stuff. No one now doubts that a woman or an African American can be the voice of America abroad, and that truth can survive a boring old white guy — even a John Kerry.

Likewise, the legacy of Tony Dungy’s all-star coaching tree, and of other African-American head coaches and executives such as Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, who is bringing his team to a second Super Bowl this year, will endure this year’s dearth of minority hiring. Ironically, while some argue that the Rooney Rule should be expanded to include mandatory minority interviews for coordinator and assistant-coach positions — on the logic that establishing more minorities here would diversify the “pipeline” to head-coaching jobs — at least four African Americans have been hired to such jobs in the last month alone, with no Rooney Rule to help them.

Maybe they were just lucky, or good.

— Daniel Foster is news editor of National Review Online.