Replaying the NFL's Latest Fumble

Marina Ziemnick

CounterCurrent: Week of 2/13


Once again, football season has come to an end­. As Detroit fans, my husband and I are enjoying the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Super Bowl victory thanks to long-time Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. But as is always the case after Super Bowl Sunday, not everyone is celebrating.

Earlier this month, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL alleging that the league engaged in racially discriminatory hiring practices. The lawsuit calls into question the 2003 Rooney Rule, which requires clubs to interview at least one minority candidate for every head coach or general manager vacancy. The clubs must maintain records demonstrating their compliance with the rule and be prepared to present them to the league upon request. 

Flores believes that he was brought in for sham interviews with multiple teams over the years—and the evidence is quite damning in the most recent case. In January, Flores interviewed for a head coach position with the New York Giants. Three days before the interview took place, he received a text message from New Englands Patriots head coach Bill Belichick congratulating him for getting the job. A couple hours later, he received another text from Belichick, who said that he had read the name wrong and that Brian Daboll, a white man, had gotten the position, not Brian Flores. Belichick apologized, and Flores went on to interview for a position that he knew was already filled. 

You may be wondering what this has to do with higher education. The Rooney Rule may not apply to American colleges and universities, but anyone who follows academic job postings knows that identity-based hiring practices are the norm for many institutions. Some universities cloak their discrimination in “diversity and inclusivity” newspeak, but others openly prioritize racial and ethnic minorities in their hiring and promotion policies. 

Brian Flores’s experience highlights the damage these policies can inflict on the very people they claim to help. If a hiring committee is discriminating against minority candidates, requirements such as the Rooney Rule will do nothing to actually combat the discrimination. Instead, they will force even the most well-meaning of hiring managers to bring in candidates who may not actually be qualified for the position, or who they do not intend to hire, simply because of their minority status. Even worse, if a minority candidate is hired for a position, diversity policies may leave them questioning whether they were hired based on their own merit or their skin color.

In this week’s featured article, Gabriel Andrade at Minding the Campus outlines the lessons that the academic community should take away from the Flores affair:

This incident exposes an uncomfortable truth: often, affirmative action programs function as bureaucratized box-ticking exercises that leave everyone worse off. Academia is no exception. Although there is no equivalent of a Rooney Rule that applies to all higher ed institutions in the United States, many universities do require hiring committees to include ethnic minorities in the pool of candidates. One may begin to wonder how many pointless interviews­—such as Flores’—have taken place as a result of these procedures in the academic world. …

In fact, the whole Flores affair should serve as a lesson about the dangers of unintended consequences. The Rooney Rule itself has morphed into a perverse incentive, as it has made a mockery of hiring practices and has ultimately harmed ethnic-minority candidates, who end up being used as tokens of racial virtue-signaling. American academia has a golden opportunity to learn from this debacle and to reconsider many of its administrative procedures and ideological leanings.

Meaningful diversity doesn’t come about through check-the-box initiatives—and it is more than skin-deep. College administrators should pay attention to Brian Flores’s experience and eliminate race-based hiring and promotion policies. Otherwise, they’ll just keep hurting the very candidates they purport to help.

Until next week.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: John Torcasio, Public Domain

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