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How Sports Leagues Can Improve Their Diversity: Analysing The NFL And MLB’s Hiring Initiatives

Action photo of baseball, basketball and American football player
Wednesday, 26 May 2021 By Jordan Goldstein

The management ranks of professional sports leagues in the US have always struggled with diversity, possibly more so than other industries. Despite new hiring polices, minorities still suffer from unequal representation in front office positions and coaching staffs.

Currently in Major League Baseball, only four heads of team baseball operations are identified as non-white by MLB’s diversity goals.[1] There is one Black man, one Latino man, a man of Asian descent, and recently hired Asian woman.[2] Currently, there are six minority managers. This is in stark contrast to the representation of MLB players where forty percent identify as non-white.[3] In the National Football League, a league which consists of seventy percent Black players, only five of thirty-two general managers are minorities and there are only four minority head coaches, three are Black and one is Muslim.[4] The article focuses solely on Major League Baseball and the National Football league as the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League do not have an official rule governing the process of interviewing and hiring diverse candidates.

In response to these disproportionate numbers, the NFL and MLB have adopted formal rules to help promote more diverse hiring practices. In 1999, then MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig, announced what came to be known as the “Selig Rule,” requiring every ball club to consider minority candidates “for all general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development and director of scouting positions.”[5] Teams have to provide the Office of the Commissioner with a list of their openings and a list of candidates to be interviewed.[6]

Similarly, the NFL in 2003 adopted the “Rooney Rule,” named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner and chairman of the league’s diversity committee, Dan Rooney. It requires every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one diverse candidate.[7] In 2009, the league expanded the Rooney Rule to include general manager jobs and equivalent front office positions.[8] In 2018, the Rooney Rule was enhanced again and now states:

Clubs must interview at least one diverse candidate from the Career Development Advisory Panel list or a diverse candidate not currently employed by the club; Clubs must continue best practice recommendation of considering multiple diverse candidates; Clubs must maintain complete records and furnish to the league upon Commissioner’s request; and If final decision-maker is involved in the beginning, he/she must be involved through the conclusion of the process.”[9]

Additionally, the NFL passed a resolution at the end of 2020 that compensates teams with draft picks when they lose minority staff members to coaching jobs and premium positions.[10] The resolution states that: “A team that loses a minority assistant coach who becomes a head coach or loses a personnel executive who becomes a general manager will receive third-round compensatory picks in each of the next two drafts and a team that loses two minority staffers to head coach and general manager positions would receive three third-round picks.”[11] Unlike the MLB, which merely requires teams to consider minority candidates, the NFL has continuously evolved its rule and has in place tangible requirements and benefits to incentivize teams that cooperate with the rule.

This article examines:

  • The legality of the Rooney and Selig Rules under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Supreme Court decisions addressing race discrimination and affirmative action.
  • How sports leagues can continue improving their diverse hiring practices within the statutory and constitutional constraints.
  • The risk of a reverse-discrimination challenge to the Rooney and Selig rules and the merits of such a claim.

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Written by

Jordan Goldstein

Jordan Goldstein

Jordan Goldstein is a 2022 J.D. Candidate at Brooklyn Law School. He is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment Law Blog. Jordan is interested in the intersection between law and sports, entertainment, and business.

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