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Fri, 07.25.2003

The NFL Fines the Detroit Lions Over ‘Rooney Rule’ Violation

On this date in 2003, the National Football League (NFL) fined a team president for not interviewing any minority candidates before hiring a white coach.

Detroit Lions President Matt Millen was fined $200,000 over hiring Steve Mariucci.  NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue informed Millen of the punishment in a letter, the first fine levied under the league's diversity program. Detroit Lions spokesman Bill Keenist said the Lions "respectfully disagree" with the ruling but supported initiatives to promote diversity on coaching staffs and in front offices.

At the start of the 2003 season, there were three Black NFL head coaches: Herman Edwards of the New York Jets, Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts, and Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals.

The NFL had been trying for years to increase minority presence at its highest levels, and it intensified its attack on the problem after advocates announced last year they might sue if the NFL didn't hire more Black coaches. League owners agreed in principle in December that any team seeking to hire a head coach would interview at least one minority candidate. An exception would be made when a team commits to promoting one of its assistants.

Known as the "Rooney Rule," this commitment is named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, one-time chairman of the NFL's diversity committee.

Since then, in 2012, there have been controversial non-hirings and possible rule revisions, two 2020 controversies, and a 2022 lawsuit brought on by Brian Flores after the Miami Dolphins fired him.

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