The Fritz Pollard Alliance is deeply saddened by the loss of Dan Rooney, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Mrs. Patricia Rooney and the Rooney family and to the entire Steelers Organization.
Dan Rooney was a giant of a man. He was a pillar of the NFL community, a United States Ambassador, and a wonderfully kind and humble human being. There will never be another like him, and he will be deeply missed. Universally respected in the NFL community, Mr. Rooney presided over one of the great franchises in sports history with integrity and an ironclad commitment to fairness and equal opportunity.
When we approached the NFL in 2002 with concerns about equal opportunity for coaches of color, we knew that Mr. Rooney would be a mighty ally, and he was. As Chairman of the League’s Workplace Diversity Committee, he worked tirelessly to ensure that the League’s other owners acknowledged the diversity and inclusion challenges that the League faced and that they committed to increasing and broadening opportunity. Those efforts helped to birth the rule that bears his name – the Rooney Rule – requiring that all NFL clubs interview at least one person of color when seeking to fill a head coach opening. Since then, the Rooney Rule has been expanded to the general manager position, and a similar rule has been enacted requiring that a woman be interviewed for every business-side front office league position. There are now a record number of minority head coaches and general managers. Ten times since 2007, an NFL Super Bowl team has been led by a minority head coach or general manager, including two times by Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
Moreover, the Rooney Rule has spread well beyond the NFL. Private companies such as Facebook, Intel, and Xerox as well as governmental entities such as the state of Oregon and the city of Portland, Oregon have enacted versions of the Rule, and it has influenced thinking from federal government agencies to European sports leagues.
The Rooney Rule and its influence are a tribute to the man, but only one of many. Mr. Rooney loved the NFL and he loved his country, and when called upon by President Barack Obama to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, he took leave of one to serve the other, and he did so brilliantly. Mr. Rooney left an indelible mark on the League and on the world. He lived an exceptional life. May he rest in peace.