N. Jeremi Duru
Advancing the Ball
Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL
University Press 2011
Each year, following the end of the NFL season, there is a blizzard of activity as teams with disappointing records fire their head coaches and look for the new leader who will turn things around. This year, seven teams fired their coaches and spent the next weeks searching for a replacement among the pool of qualified candidates. The league office imposes one rule on these searches: teams must interview at least one minority candidate for the head coaching position. Established in 2003 by owners of NFL teams, the Rooney Rule was intended to give African American coaches a shot at top coaching positions, at a time when a majority of the league’s players were black but only two of the 32 teams had a black coach. More than a decade later, the effectiveness of the rule is still subject of debate. Yes, two of seven teams hired new black coaches this year. But the total number of black coaches in the league is only four, down from a high of seven in 2011. And a look at fan sites shows that prejudice still rears its head, as some white fans will dismiss a black coaching candidate as a “Rooney interview.”
N. Jeremi Duru was part of the legal team that pressed the NFL to take more proactive steps in opening coaching opportunities for black coaches, and he now serves with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization that promotes greater diversity in the league’s coaching and management. His book Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL (Oxford University Press, 2011) looks at this campaign leading to the Rooney Rule. Jeremi brings the perspective of an insider and a scholar. In addition to his work as an attorney, Jeremi is a law professor and legal scholar who writes and teaches about a variety of issues in sports law. In his book, he uncovers the obstacles that have historically kept African Americans from coaching and front-office positions in the NFL, and he evaluates the changes that have occurred since the Rooney Rule was implemented. At a time when other leagues in the world are contemplating a similar step to remedy the lack of minority coaches, Jeremi’s book offers valuable lessons on the formation of the Rooney Rule, the obstacles it has faced, and the successes it has achieved in the last decade.