Cyrus Mehri, Johnnie L Cochran Jr. Credit: Amy Sancetta

In 2002, when only two of 32 NFL Clubs had a head coach of color, Cyrus, together with Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. challenged the NFL over their lack of racial diversity in leadership positions. Cyrus, a long-time labor and employment lawyer, recognized the NFL’s status quo as unacceptable and publicly proclaimed that the NFL would change. At the negotiation table, Cyrus made sure that it did.

Cyrus and Johnnie commissioned a study revealing that coaches of color were the last hired and first fired, confronted the NFL with a report titled, Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities, and pressed the NFL to institute diverse candidate slate interviewing procedures to expand opportunity for head coaching aspirants of color. The League implemented the procedure, which came to be known as the Rooney Rule, and subsequently expanded it to include interviews for general managers as well as head coaches. By any standard, the Rule has worked. Entering the 2017 season, a record 16 NFL Clubs are led by a minority head coach or general manager. Starting with Coaches Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith in 2007 through Coach Ron Riviera in 2016, 10 Super Bowl Clubs have been led by a minority head coach or general manager, showing the power of diversity. Cyrus’ work in this regard is featured in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian’s newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture. The success of the Rooney Rule has inspired major companies, state and local governments, universities, and even much of the U.S. Senate to adopt similar measures of reform.

Cyrus on the Rooney Rule

Dan Rooney, Jaki Lee, Kellen Winslow, and Cyrus Mehri