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Major League Soccer Amends Its 'Rooney Rule'

Paul Steinbach
Mls

Major League Soccer announced a significant overhaul of its 2007 diversity, equity and inclusion hiring policy for sporting positions on Tuesday.

As reported by ESPN U.S. soccer correspondent Jeff Carlisle, the changes to the league's so-called Rooney Rule — a name borrowed from the NFL's minority hiring initiative — are intended to increase the policy's efficacy, add a specific focus on the hiring of Black candidates and strengthen the policy's enforcement mechanisms.

"There is a commitment from across the organization to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive league, one that is reflective of who it is that we say we want to be," Sola Winley, MLS executive vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer told ESPN.

Among the changes are a requirement that the finalist pool for an open technical position includes two or more non-white candidates, one of whom must be Black/African American, as part of a renewed effort to prioritize opportunities for Black candidates. Previously, the policy only required one diverse candidate to be interviewed for an open position, ESPN reported.

Hiring organizations must also demonstrate that the interview process includes candidates with comparable experience for all candidates in the finalist pool. Previously, teams could violate the spirit of the rule by interviewing candidates whose qualifications didn't match those required by the job. The term "minority" was also stretched, according to ESPN.

Another issue that the updated policy aims to address is making sure word gets out as to what technical positions are available. Previously teams could get away with advertising an available position to a select group of candidates, which in some instances shut out underrepresented groups. To that end, MLS is creating a Diversity Policy Portal (DPP) in which clubs must submit all details of vacant technical positions and include information related to all candidates in the final candidate pool.

MLS reports that it has equitable representation of Hispanic/Latinx coaches relative to its player pool, which is 30 percent Hispanic/Latinx. However, while a quarter of all MLS players are Black, only 7 percent of assistant coaches and 10 percent of head coaches are Black. This includes the recent hiring of Ezra Hendrickson as manager of the Chicago Fire.

The updated policy provides a specific definition of "underrepresented groups" as Black or African American, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, Canadian Indigenous, Canadian First Nations, Women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

MLS defines the term Hispanic as Spanish speakers from outside the U.S., and Latinx as those Spanish speakers raised in the U.S. Combining them into one demographic is seen by some as potentially problematic.

"An Argentine who has been considered white his whole life, he didn't have any obstacles in Argentina to becoming the manager of Boca Juniors," Hofstra University associate history professor Brenda Elsey, who is also the lead development officer in the Americas for the Fare Network, an organization that seeks to combat inequality and bigotry in soccer, told ESPN. "We're looking at what obstacles exist in the U.S. for [Latinx] to get those jobs."

Winley said that because The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which grades various sports leagues on their hiring practices, combines Hispanic and Latinx into one group, it will follow that guideline.

"If that criteria shifts, we will review it, but right now, we want it to be consistent with how we are being vetted and scored as it's happening consistently across the sports industry," he said.

Teams can apply to receive a waiver from MLS as it relates to the policy, but those will be granted only when there are "extenuating circumstances."

The policy will be evaluated annually based on interviewing and hiring data, and changes will be made if it is determined that the policy is not achieving the intended results, ESPN reported.

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