*(Via Color of Change) Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is out to claim his second Super Bowl title in three years as his team prepares to square off against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. If the Steelers win, Tomlin will be the first African American to lead his team to two Super Bowls. Not bad for the 38-year-old coach nobody wanted to hire.
But Tomlin wouldn’t likely be roaming the sidelines if not for the Rooney Rule, which requires an NFL team with a head coaching vacancy to interview a candidate of color. Before the rule, few African Americans were granted interviews, let alone given head coaching jobs.
In 2002, the late Johnnie Cochran and fellow attorney Cyrus Mehri felt people of color, particularly African Americans, deserved more opportunities to lead teams. So Cochran and Mehri threatened to sue the NFL if it didn’t change its ways. “Our motives are driven not by personal desire or financial gain, but to correct what we see as a great inequity in America’s game,” Cochran said at the time. “Now is the time for the NFL to step up and make a change.”
The threat of a lawsuit was enough to get the NFL’s attention. In 2003, the league emerged with the Rooney Rule. The rule is named after Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who is also the leader of the NFL’s Diversity Committee.
When longtime Steelers coach Bill Cowher resigned in 2007, the organization began its search for someone to replace one of the league’s most celebrated figures to lead one of the most storied franchises in professional sports. When Tomlin emerged with the job, many around the NFL were surprised.
Some suggested that, at 34 years old, he was too young. Others pointed to his paltry six years of NFL experience as an assistant and coordinator. Thankfully, the Steelers went with what they saw and not with what they heard.
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