So, the English Premier League will not be staging that dreaded 39th game overseas any time soon, which perhaps allows some of those grassroots fans to be thankful for something while they see the rest of their game being taken away. Chief executive Richard Scudamore certainly wanted to distance himself not only from his own failed idea but also from Scottish Premier League chief Neil Doncaster’s idea of taking the Old Firm abroad, which could be taken as simply a throw-away comment or a cheeky notice to Mr. Doncaster not to send him a holiday card. While this decision looked to be coming anyway, as there was general derision when Scudamore proffered it around three years ago, it was probably less important than the other concept Scudamore turned aside (and no, it was not him rejecting Rangers and Celtic in the EPL for seemingly the umpteenth time). Sliding it in between announcing there would be no 39th game on his watch and that the Old Firm wouldn’t be disrupting the English pyramid system either, Scudamore let it be known there will be no ‘Rooney Rule’ for the English Premier League. In so doing Scudamore appears to have confirmed his ignorance on what it would have entailed and also how distanced he is from the issue of race in his increasingly multi-ethnic league.
By expressing his admiration for affirmative action but simultaneously dismissing its need in his league, claiming it is impossible, Scudamore demonstrated he really gave the idea little more than a careless thought. As the ‘Rooney Rule’ has been applied in the United States for the private sports leagues of the National Football League (NFL) and in Major League Baseball (MLB), the quota requirement occurs in the application process and not necessarily the hiring of minority candidates. What clubs must do is include at least one person of color among its interviews for a managerial position. That person does not have to be hired nor do the leagues force certain clubs to hire a candidate of color in order to meet some arbitrary league-wide mandated quota; simply, when each club has an opening, at least one minority must be considered, even at times if it is a superficial move. As it has been enforced, it is a mechanism for opening the door for those managerial prospects of color that would have otherwise been overlooked, even if it was being done unconsciously by team presidents hiring managerial retreads because they knew of them, or former players who could be considered a part of a particular club’s history. The knock-on effect has been that, by making this simple tweak in the interview process, club officials both in American football and baseball have had their eyes opened to minority candidates qualified for head coaching/managerial jobs, and some have been given the opportunity that might have otherwise passed them by owing to even an involuntary case of bias among those involved in the hiring process. In Major League Baseball the effect has been even more influential, as not only do we see more minority managers of playing squads but also faces of color and females at the executive levels of baseball teams.
With this, then, Scudamore’s assertion that with his twenty clubs it would be impossible to meet some type of quota, he clearly did not consider the matter any deeper than Sepp Blatter did before extemporaneously speaking on poor race relations being solved with handshakes. Granted, were the English Premier League to institute some variation on the ‘Rooney Rule’ which its clubs would have to apply, there would be the matter of how to define a minority–for if it was applied by American standards, clubs could simply interview the latest Portuguese manager of the moment–but were their hearts truly into it club representatives could negotiate a definition. Rejecting such a rule outright by being good for America but not good for the English Premier League sounded empty and soft. In particular, Scudamore leaning upon the presumption that England’s grassroots system would ensure minority candidates get their chances sounded rich, as his league attempts to pull itself even further away from those roots through various schemes and kill them off entirely. Since 1992, there has not been much filtering up through the leagues that was not stopped at the foot of the Premier League. As most recently embodied in the Elite Player Performance Plan, the flow has been more downhill.
Further, it echoed the increasing detachment Scudamore and those running England’s top flight have from the reality of modern football. Foreign players and players of color will continue to heavily populate squad rosters, and despite their best efforts to return the English Premier League to its former “English-ness,” this ship has sailed. For those presuming the Homegrown rule was intended to halt this and promote young English talent instead might not have considered how some clubs would respond to the conditions. Rather than possibly spending more money on developing true homegrown talent, EPL clubs can still go abroad, purchase the rights to young players elsewhere, and stuff them in their academies until they qualify for homegrown status. Your EPL squads, then, will still include players not originally from England, and most likely of color as youngsters from Africa, Asia, and South America are bought and shipped to England before they’re old enough to grow facial hair. Both the NFL and MLB noticed the wide disparity in how their squads of color were continuing to be managed by the same faces that didn’t look like them and took action to correct the slight. While these leagues did not force their teams to hire minority candidates so that their players would be coached by someone of a similar ethnicity to them, the imposition of a quota in the interview process organically grew the number of minorities that have since been hired. Scudamore assuming EPL clubs will eventually follow suit via osmosis fails upon inspection just as the Homegrown rule will fail in making the English Premier League more English.
Might a ‘Rooney Rule’ have actually forced the composition of the English Premier League’s managers to look more English? Now we won’t know.
The timing of this announcement should not be overlooked either. With John Terry subject to a police investigation over alleged racism, Luis Suarez preparing his defense before the FA for alleged racism, Blatter’s oblivious remarks on race, and former Dutch player Edgar Davids pleading for authorities to combat racism in light of possible remarks made by Johan Cruyff, Scudamore slides in the news the EPL has opted not to tackle issues of race institutionally. This might have been an opportunity for someone in a position of authority, one of the more influential chiefs of European football at the present, to reverse the view that football’s powers turn a blind eye to racism, even in its unintentional varieties when it comes to the hiring practices of Premier League clubs. Admitting that consideration of the ‘Rooney Rule’ will go no further in discusssions on the English Premier League’s future seemingly confirms what Sepp Blatter was demonized for in the English presses. Rather than being an agent of change, Scudamore has placed himself alongside others who have the authority to do something but will instead silently maintain the status quo. This would have been a timely moment for the English Premier League to even tacitly admit it has an issue–as over half its clubs have failed to go beyond the preliminary standard of racial equality per the Kick it Out organization–and it is working internally to address it at the upper levels of club management. Instead, Scudamore & Co. add themselves to the list who consider these types of things will be worked out on their own over time.
Growing up in the American South, I am fully aware these types of things never get worked out on their own over time.
Now, for those feeling there is no association between the EPL’s rejection of a ‘Rooney Rule’ and players shouting racist slurs, they would be partially correct. Forcing the clubs to interview minority candidates for managerial roles will not change whether the squads they manage have racists, nor would having more managers of color make players of color play any better than they had for any predecessors. What having such an imposition would do, though, is make the outright racists both on the pitch and in the board rooms think twice before acting on their beliefs and cause others to change their opinions if persons of color were in positions of power. Before, it might have been a standard idea among NFL executives that an African-American coach was great in an associate capacity to directly work with a particular set of players in the squad, but being in charge of the entire team was above his station. Now, that perception has changed with successful African-American head coaches opposing each other in Super Bowls. While baseball moved just as slowly as American football, from the days of Jackie Robinson in the 1940s to Cito Gaston managing World Series championships in the 1990s, its drive for inclusion has accelerated over the past ten years, with minority executives demonstrating they are successful and not just token, resulting in a widening of the net cast when clubs seek out new hires at all levels of club management.
Those high diversity scores for MLB started from baseball’s own commissioner’s office setting the tone rather than shying away from it as Scudamore sadly has done in this instance.
Also, for those considering that such a rule would be a nonsense as there just are not enough minority candidates for EPL clubs to interview–as this appears to have been Scudamore’s possible assessment too–they would likely be surprised that once forced to consider them, the clubs could find ample qualified persons with whom to speak with over managerial vacancies. The same was said of the NFL and MLB and served as a proxy for their rather glacial moves on this issue, but there are now apparently enough in the potential pool of would-be coaches/managers to consider and the mechanism has now increased the number of those who have been deemed eligible for other positions down the road. This, then, should not be used as a quick excuse either, but instead it should be seen as an attempt to keep this particular barn door closed lest club owners get nervous about having to actually seek out those beyond whom they already have on speed dial when their squads’ playing forms sour.
Here was a chance for England’s top flight to stand out among the crowd for a good reason, to be a trend-setter and stamp a firm rejection of Sepp Blatter’s thoughts on racism in football. Here was an idea that, had it been put into motion, would have signaled a meaningful attempt to combat a rather complex yet overlooked issue in the English Premier League. Rather, for what might be the umpteenth time, Richard Scudamore and the EPL have disappointed, but at least we don’t have that pesky 39th game to worry about or Scotland invading the English leagues, eh?
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