PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — No one loved the game of football more than Dan Rooney, but looking around the league, he saw injustice.
Despite their dominance on the field and overwhelming numbers on team rosters, few African-Americans could be found in the coaching ranks. Long-time Steelers Communications Director Joe Gordon remembers.
“He felt very passionately about that, that this was wrong, and we had to do something about that,” he said.
As perhaps the most respected of all NFL owners and confidante of three NFL commissioners, Dan Rooney lobbied hard for what later became known as the “Rooney Rule,” requiring that teams interview minority candidates for open coaching positions.
“Fought very hard for it and finally got it adopted and you can see the dividends has paid since then,” Gordon said.
This coming year the NFL will have at least eight minority head coaches leading 25 percent of the league’s teams. A movement started in part by Rooney himself when a standout African-American candidate emerged in 2007 when Bill Cowher retired.
“Mike Tomlin came into the mix very late and immediately Dan said ‘this is an opportunity to put my actions where my beliefs are’ and he prevailed upon the rest of the organization to say this is our guy,” Gordon said.
Joe Gordon said Rooney was guided by his own moral compass, with a bedrock belief in fairness and equality. Even though a life-long Republican, he would cross party lines to support Barack Obama, helping him become the first African-American president.
“This was typical Dan. He did what he thought was the right thing regardless of the consequences. And like I said there are still a lot of Republicans, big shots in the Republican party who were upset with him,” Gordon said.