Former Steeler Ryan Clark defends Rooney Rule, invokes Mike Tomlin

Former Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Clark illustrated the importance of establishing the Rooney Rule and its role in the hiring of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. 

In the 58-page lawsuit Brian Flores submitted against the NFL, there is great detail of the systemic racism entrenched in NFL history. Even though the Rooney Rule was instituted only 20 years ago, there remains a lack of understanding of how the rule is intended to work.

If teams hold sham interviews for Black candidates the way Flores alleges they did in New York, it dishonors the spirit of the rule: to value the work of Black coaches and legitimately consider them for coaching positions.

When someone argued with former Steelers safety Ryan Clark that the Rooney Rule “lessens the overall value of Black candidates” because it forces teams to interview someone and perhaps take it less seriously, Clark reminded them why the rule was instituted in the first place — and the way that the Steelers have directly benefitted from it.

Ryan Clark explains how the Rooney Rule helped Mike Tomlin earn an interview with Steelers

Mike Tomlin isn’t just the NFL’s only remaining Black head coach — it’s talented coaches like him for which the rule was originally intended.

The Athletic’s Stephen Holder illustrated how the Steelers interpreted the spirit of the rule the way it was intended. Tomlin wasn’t hired because of the Rooney Rule: the Steelers opened the doors to diverse candidates they may not have considered otherwise, and it allowed Tomlin the opportunity to shine.

“The Steelers interviewed not one, but two, minority candidates in 2007 (Ron Rivera being the other),” Holder said. “And they are quite happy they did, as Tomlin, according to the late Dan Rooney’s autobiography, ‘blew our doors off’ in the interview. That’s how the young Tomlin landed the gig over Rivera and Russ Grimm to succeed Bill Cowher.”

“Had the Steelers viewed the requirement to interview a minority candidate as an inconvenience rather than an opportunity, had they instead seen it as an impediment to hiring someone they had already settled on, they might well have had several coaches in the 15 seasons Tomlin has now been at the helm,” Holder said.

As the lawsuit denotes, Black coaches are less likely to get hired and more likely to get fired sooner than their white counterparts.

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