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The NFL Is Looking Into Whether the Raiders Violated the Rooney Rule

Oakland’s hiring of Jon Gruden happened quickly enough that the Fritz Pollard Alliance has called for an investigation

Oakland Raiders Introduce Jon Gruden Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Story: The NFL is officially looking into whether the Raiders violated the Rooney Rule when they hired Jon Gruden as head coach, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Importance: The Rooney Rule mandates that teams must interview a minority candidate for open head coaching, general manager, and equivalent front-office positions. The rule was implemented in 2003, when roughly 70 percent of NFL players were black but 30 of 32 NFL head coaches (93.5 percent) were white. The league has seen an increase in minority head coaches since then, but still has disproportionate representation at the coaching and front-office levels, as well as at positions like quarterback and center.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said at Jon Gruden’s introductory press conference on Tuesday that the team complied with the Rooney Rule by interviewing Bobby Johnson, the Raiders tight ends coach, and Tee Martin, the offensive coordinator at USC. However, after the press conference, Raiders owner Mark Davis told reporters that he would not have fired Jack Del Rio unless he knew he could persuade Gruden to join the team––implying Johnson and Martin’s interviews may have taken place only after the team had a de facto agreement with Gruden. On Wednesday, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a foundation of former players, front-office personnel, scouts, and lawyers that promotes “diversity and equality of job opportunity” in the NFL, called for the league to “thoroughly investigate the matter to conclusively determine whether the Rooney Rule was violated.”

If the league finds the Raiders did violate the Rooney rule, Oakland could be fined. In 2003, the Detroit Lions failed to interview any black candidates before hiring Steve Mariucci as head coach and were fined $200,000. That same year, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones agreed to a deal with Bill Parcels to become the Dallas head coach and then called Dennis Green to retroactively comply with the rule, successfully avoiding any punishment from the league. In November, Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten was “deeply bothered” at the Browns’ hiring of now-GM John Dorsey, but the NFL found no wrongdoing.

The league has yet to comment on the Raiders situation, but in the 2017 diversity report, NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent laid out the challenge the league faces in enforcing diversity policy.

“The fact of the matter is that private entities, such as our 32 Clubs, cannot be shamed or forced into hiring someone,” he wrote. “The Rooney Rule provides a point of entry, but to solve the long-term conundrum of opportunities [versus] the number of teams that can provide those opportunities, development of highly qualified individuals is imperative.”

The Takeaway: If Oakland is found to have violated the rule, a six-digit fine would be a drop in the bucket after the team handed Jon Gruden $100 million. If the Raiders are found to have technically complied with the Rooney Rule but evidence mounts that the team settled on Gruden beforehand, it will raise new questions about how the NFL handles diversity policy and disproportionate racial representation.