The English Premier League is considering a proposal to implement its very own "Rooney Rule" – and it has absolutely nothing to do with Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney.
Civil rights lawyer Cyrus Mehri, a driving force behind the National Football League's regulation that enforces coaching and front-office opportunities for minority candidates, has launched a campaign aimed at ending English soccer's most striking racial imbalance.
Countless black players having starred in both the EPL and for the England national team over the past 30 years, yet there has been a dearth of black head coaches. There are currently only two black head coaches among the 92 clubs in England's top four divisions, and none in the EPL. The only black English head coach to take charge of an EPL team was Paul Ince, who was appointed by Blackburn Rovers in 2008 but lasted only 177 days before being fired.
Back in 2002, Mehri was the leading proponent of the NFL's "Rooney Rule" – named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney – which stipulated that every team filling an opening for a head coach must interview at least one black candidate. Since then, the rule has been expanded to include all ethnic minority groups and all senior football operations positions.
Mehri believes an urgent need exists for a similar rule in English soccer.
"There has been a lost generation of potential black managers in English soccer," Mehri told Yahoo! Sports. "There has been a huge discrepancy there and this is the best approach to fix it. I sense there is a willingness and an opportunity for England to put this right. It is up to them to put the ball in the net and I think they will.
"In some ways it should be easier now that there is a precedent for it after the progress that has been made in the NFL and this could be a wonderfully positive move for English football and a real turning point."
Mehri was invited last week to the United Kingdom by Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers Association players' union, and met with representatives from the EPL, the Football Association, the League Managers Association and delegates from the lower leagues.
He was greeted by a positive response from those in positions of power and from the British media. Given that the Rooney Rule, which has been repeatedly praised by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, took only three months from inception to approval in 2002, it may not be long before the EPL has a firm policy in place.
Some involved in English soccer have been embarrassed by the lack of black managers in recent years and there is little doubt that many accomplished soccer minds were lost to the game because former players believed they would find limited coaching opportunities because of the color of their skin.
If a new rule goes through, it could be a significant step for minorities. In the NFL, there were only two black head coaches when the rule was passed. Today there are seven among the 32 teams.
Mike Tomlin of the Steelers and former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy have both won Super Bowls.
"This is a test of leadership for soccer but it is one which I believe they will pass," Mehri said. "When I had the meetings in England the thing that struck me was that there seem to be a collective mindset that this was needed – and it is.
"It is time for change and there is a chance here to make that change in a proven and structured way."
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