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Commentary

How Rooney Ruled

Apr 18, 2017

Today the world says goodbye to a hero of the gridiron and diversity.

Dan Rooney, the beloved owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team and former US ambassador to Ireland, is being laid to rest today in Oakland, PA. He died April 14th at age 84. Among the visiting mourners are President Barack Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder; former Secretary of State John Kerry with his wife, Teresa Heinz; and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Rooney was a giant to players and fans, but he is also widely known as the inventor of the Rooney Rule, a mechanism to diversify leadership ranks, which has been embraced by many tech companies. The Rooney Rule, first implemented in 2003, required NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate to fill head coaching vacancies. (Four years later, it was expanded to include general managers.) But in an industry where the workforce was more than 70% African American with only 6% representation in the coaching ranks, it offered a simple way to start leveling the playing field.

The Pittsburg Post Gazette interviewed John Wooten, the Cleveland Browns star, and NFL diversity champion about how the rule was born:

Chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a foundation promoting equality in coaching, scouting and front-office jobs for NFL teams, Mr. Wooten worked closely with Mr. Rooney to develop a league policy requiring teams to interview minority candidates. Eventually — and, as Mr. Wooten remembers, reluctantly — it would be named after an Irishman who grew up on the North Side.

“The thing about it is, he really didn’t want it to be called the Rooney Rule,” Mr. Wooten, 80, said over the phone from his Texas home on what he called a sorrowful evening for him and his organization. “I told him, ‘As much as I respect you, and will always do what you recommend, I don’t want to call it anything else but the Rooney Rule. Because you are the one that made it happen. You, and you alone, made it happen.’”

Years later, the rule has had mixed results. “The league will open the 2017 season with eight minority head coaches—four times more than in 2003, but still just a quarter of all teams,” reports Quartz. Much of the momentum tapered off by 2012. Critics say that because the rule sets no quotas, the rule can be easily viewed as check-mark that does little to change the game.

But the Rooney Rule has also become the darling of the tech world, to quote my colleague, Valentina Zarya. In 2015, after president Barack Obama asked tech companies to work on their diversity issues, seven companies, including Facebook, Pinterest, Intel, Amazon, and Xerox announced that they would be using a version of the Rooney Rule going forward. But, without specific mandates and public hiring targets, it’s a blunt tool that doesn’t do much – which is partly why the more transparent companies are with their diversity numbers and goals, the better off we will all be.

That said, The Rooney Rule was a great start, and in 2003, a bold act. It shone a light on a clear and present inequity and provided an important talking point for allies to begin conversations of their own. And Rooney himself was a profoundly decent guy, who ate lunch every day in the cafeteria with the secretaries, and shook hands with players after every game. He cared about their safety and it showed.

"Our business is the game; we're not in this thing to make all the money in the world," Rooney told sports writer Judy Battista, about his unwillingness to hitch the team to the tails of corporate sponsors. “I think some other teams still do things our way. But on this, we might be the last guy on the mountain."

I sure hope not. The rule may have been an imperfect tool, but it was part of how Rooney ruled. And that may be the best legacy of all.

On Point

Could apprenticeships be the key to solving diversity in tech?

That’s the question posed by Sylvain Kalache, the co-founder of the Holberton School, a two-year software engineering training program. He begins by lauding the work of tech companies to shore up the pipeline early, like Google’s partnership with Howard University, and SalesForce’s financial support of the San Francisco and Oakland Unified School Districts. But, if you think of the education system as a throwback to the 19th century model of preparing farm workers for the manufacturing revolution, then tweaking the model might be the best way to get underrepresented talent into the pipeline now. “Learning by doing, which has been considered for decades as the only way for tradespeople to develop skills, is gaining converts,” he says, citing countries like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. “Often associated with blue collar jobs, its practices are well-suited to the STEM fields, especially engineering, which represents a big part of current white collar jobs.”

VentureBeat

A battle tested idea: Mentor people who are not like you

Both empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests that most mentors seek out “mini-mes” or people who are like or familiar to themselves. But consciously identifying people outside your social or demographic circle offers a variety of important opportunities. “Telling our protégés that diversity matters won’t change a thing. We must demonstrate our commitment to it by deliberately mentoring people who aren’t like us,” says Richard Farnell, an Army officer with numerous combat tours under his belt. For one, he was able to identify development needs within his team that he might have missed if he hadn’t made the effort. “[I]t took me years to understand this basic dynamic: Those who look less like me might find it hard to share their concerns with me or ask for help.” In addition to helping individuals meet their own goals, he says, “it has made me a more empathic, emotionally intelligent leader.” Great to read and share.

HBR

After a campus melee, Cal State investigates a punching incident caught on video

School officials have launched an investigation after a video went viral of a Cal State student punching a woman in the face during a protest this weekend. “The university has zero tolerance for the use of violence and we will take all of the necessary legal and disciplinary measures to ensure that all students and everyone on campus have a safe and secure environment,” said Cal State Stanislaus President Ellen Junn in a statement. The attacker was identified as Nathan Damigo, a Cal State student and vocal white supremacist.

Los Angeles Times

After two police officers were fired, 89 of their cases were dismissed

It was just one of many terrible videos highlighting police overreach, but this time the impact was swift. Two suburban Atlanta police officers were fired after video surfaced of them punching and kicking motorists during two separate traffic stops. The first video showed one of the officers kicking a handcuffed man in the head as he lays in the middle of a busy highway, the second shows the other officer strike a man in the face even though he had his hands up as directed. A few days later, authorities dismissed 89 cases where one of the two were either a principal or supporting witness.

ABC News

How a supercomputer could save democracy

Partisan gerrymandering, or the construction of voting districts to swing elections toward one political party, may be literally dividing the country, but the Supreme Court hasn’t addressed the issue in decades. The problem is it's hard to prove. So, a team of data scientists at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications has developed a way to determine whether an improper gerrymandering has occurred. “The Supreme Court has yet to settle on a standard or definition of political fairness,” Wendy Tam Cho, a senior research scientist. Their algorithm determines whether a party is manipulating a map for political gain – a gerrymandering measuring stick – by generating local maps based on legal districting principles. If the computer generated district maps vary from the ones drawn by politicians, then an illegal partisan re-districting may have occurred. The mapping tool is already being used as the basis for several pending lawsuits.

Vox

The Woke Leader

A tale of oil, murder and “love”: The long, slow destruction of the Osage tribe

It’s a story so sinister that it’s hard to believe it’s true. But a new book, Killers of the Flower Moon, describes in horrific detail how a community of powerful whitefolk conspired to kill Osage tribe members who had been accidentally resettled onto lands rich with oil reserves. The murders, many by poison, took place during the 1920s, and were covered up by neighbors, law enforcement and medical examiners. Anyone who attempted to investigate also wound up dead. But that’s not the worst part. “It involved a level of calculation and a level of betraying the very people you pretended to love,” author David Grann told NPR. Since land rights were transferred through family relations, “the way these murders would take place is that people would marry into the families and then begin to kill each member of the family.” It was one of the first cases taken on by the brand-new FBI, who employed the only Native American agent at the time.

NPR

Remembering Sylvia Moy, a quiet power behind Motown and Stevie Wonder

She died over the weekend at 78, but here’s the obituary we were waiting for. The Detroit Free Press, one of the few papers to follow her work throughout her life, has put together a moving tribute to a trailblazing artist. Moy earned a permanent spot on the Motown creative team after she wrote or co-wrote a bevy of hits, like Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” (1965); “I Was Made to Love Her” (1967); and “My Cherie Amour” (1969) all for Stevie Wonder. One of nine kids, all of whom had music or performance ambitions, Moy earned a recording contract with Motown first, but she soon became a songwriting and producing powerhouse, holding her own in a world prepared to overlook her. "She broke that glass ceiling for women in the music industry," said her brother Melvin Moy. "In the '60s, women weren't encouraged to play instruments, let alone be producers."

Detroit Free Press

A story of race and family, mixed yet separate

Not that long ago, “mixed marriages,” were emotionally fraught negotiations for many families who struggled to balance the deeply bigoted societies they lived in with the surprise of a new son or daughter-in-law from a different race. With a black and Japanese mother and a white father whose family disowned them, Sarah Ratliff shares a deeply personal tale of community, racism and navigating a world unprepared to let her name herself. “For many of us, my family included, [identity] had to do with which parent’s race was more discriminated against.”

Swirl Nation

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