Historic Leveling of the NFL Playing Field
On September 30, 2002, Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. and M&S co-founder Cyrus Mehri issued a ground-breaking report—“Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities”—revealing that black NFL head coaches were held to a higher standard than their white counterparts, and were consequently denied a fair chance to compete for head coaching jobs.
The report opened the NFL’s eyes to its teams’ unfair hiring processes. Within two months, the League had formed a diversity committee, headed by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, and announced a diversity plan, which included the requirement that each team interview at least one minority candidate prior to selecting a head coach. The requirement came to be known as the Rooney Rule, and it changed the face of head coaching in the NFL.
As the NFL was implementing the Rooney Rule, Cyrus Mehri—along with NFL veterans John Wooten and Kellen Winslow—formed the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an affinity group of NFL minority coaches, scouts and front office personnel. Since then, the FPA has worked with the NFL to develop hiring guidelines for front office and scouting positions as well as talent development programs. The FPA’s work on the use of the Rooney Rule has inspired other organizations inside and outside of the United States to work to level the playing field.