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Can the NFL’s Rooney Rule help make Congress less white?

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

According to the Washington Post, pressure from a combination of party members and their own employees have forced Democrats—a party that benefits from a strong minority coalition—to do more to address their lack of diversity on the Hill. To that end, Senate Minority Leader Chuck wants his colleagues to adopt the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching and other senior positions.

“The more diverse the Senate is, the better it can serve the American people,” Schumer told the Post. “Expanding the diversity initiative, following the Rooney rule, and dedicating ourselves to increasing diversity will be good for the Senate and for the country.”

The goal of the rule, created in 2003, was to force NFL hiring managers to think more broadly about their network of candidates. But it has garnered mixed reviews. Some champion it as a necessary next step in correcting years of exclusive hiring practices. In the 12 seasons before the rule, the NFL had six non-white head coaches; after the rule was instituted, the league added 14 minority head coaches. But others say these numbers are disappointing given the period of time, and that minority hiring has stalled in recent years as teams follow the letter of the rule, but not its spirit.

“The good thing about the Rooney Rule was not that you had to interview a minority candidate but that it slowed the process down and made you do some research,” former head coach Tony Dungy told ESPN, “but now it seems like in the last few years, people haven’t really done what the rule was designed for. It has become, ‘Just let me talk to a couple minority coaches very quickly so I can go about the business of hiring the person I really want to hire anyway.’”

Implementing the Rooney Rule in Congress certainly can’t hurt, though it’s worth noting that Schumer can’t force anyone to adopt it. But well-intentioned diversity initiatives of this sort often fail because they treat inclusion cosmetically instead of at its root. Interviewing minority candidates could easily become a box to check instead of a thoughtful process. Increasing diversity requires more than just new rules; it requires an honest commitment.