From top: Dan Rooney at the Irish American Flag Football Classic at the American ambassador’s Residence in Phoenix Park, Dublin on July 4, 2013; Tony Groves

What we can learn from ‘colour blind’ Dan Rooney, former American Ambassador to Ireland and radical change agent, who died last week.

Tony Groves writes:

Dan Rooney grew up in the North Side of Pittsburgh. It was a more racially diverse part of the city and young Dan played baseball on integrated teams. He attended Duquense University, a pioneer school for the recruitment and playing of Black Athletes.

In Pittsburgh there’s a Newspaper produced by the African American Community called the Pittsburgh Courier. In the early 1960s they had a sportswriter called Bill Nunn, who was familiar with the Black athletes from mainly Black Colleges. Athletes and colleges who were, for whatever reason, overlooked by the National Football League (NFL) in that era.

When Dan Rooney became involved with the management of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968 (he’d worked as a water boy from the age of 5) he hired Bill Nunn a team scout and made him part of the Steelers team responsible for drafting players from colleges into the NFL.

When in 1969 they drafted (on the advice of Nunn) Mean Joe Greene the Steelers’ identity as a defensive juggernaut was founded.

Later, and more famously, while Chairman of the NFL’s Diversity Committee he introduced the Rooney Rule. The rule stipulates that when seeking to fill Coaching Roles or Senior Football Operations Positions, NFL teams must include minority candidates in the interview pool.

This was a league whose were nearly 70% of players came from minority communities while the coaches were 94% white. Since the Rule’s 2003 implementation minority representation in coaching teams has risen from 6% to 22%. It was Dan Rooney’s colour blindness that helped change the face of the NFL.

Dan Rooney knew change was inevitable. But he wasn’t above giving it a kick in the arse if he felt it needed it. He wasn’t going to wait for the Old Boys Network to do away with itself. So he threw a match on the Old Rule Book.

Dan Rooney wouldn’t settle for our governments delaying tactics of Commissions of Inquiries or Reports from Retired Judges. He’d call out the malingers and wafflers and demand repercussions beyond tough questioning at public hearings.

Dan Rooney would see the fear mongering in questions like the one [Newstalk host] George Hook asked on Friday, “Are Muslims the enemy within?” He would explain to George that it is fear of the other that is the breathing ground of terror.

He’d perhaps recall how an other George, George W Bush, asked a similar question “Why do they hate us?” He might remember that the President had answered his own question with one of the biggest lies of his two terms in office: “They hate our freedoms.”

Nobody in their right minds and living in a repressive Islamic regime would hate freedom. They’d quite like some of it for themselves. They’d hate that if they travelled here from oppression that we’d tell them that they were unwelcome enemies.

I mean, how welcome would you feel if you read a recent David Quinn [Irish Independent] column, that asked How Much Integration is too Much?

Despite Trump, despite Brexit, despite Le Pen and despite our do nothing Dáil, time cannot be turned back. Globalisation is systemic and the toothpaste cannot be put back in the tube.

You can be like Dan Rooney who embraced and nurtured change. You can build bridges rather than walls and hope to leave the place better for your existence. Or you can sit in fear, achieve nothing and leave a legacy of regression.

Dan Rooney was a life-long Republican. I like to think that it was his exasperation with the fear of change within that party that made him endorse Democratic Candidate Barack Obama in 2009.

I’d like to think that the former Ambassador to Ireland helped us all see the positives in positive discrimination. I think we could all do with a little Rooney Rule in our lives. That’s a change not to be feared.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld



23 thoughts on “Why Dan Ruled

  1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

    This is a very odd piece. Why use a recently-deceased (obviously very impressive) man to hammer home your points? It just seems a bit un-classy.

  2. Nigel

    RIP -he sounds like a good and decent man, and thanks for sharing this appreciation. However, someone who takes active steps the way he did can’t truly be said to be ‘colour blind,’ can they? That implies a passive, neutral, not to say complacent approach. He sounds like he had his eyes and his heart wide open, not blind at all.

    1. missred

      Yeah, that’s a poor choice of words alright. Colour-blind is a term used generally as being blind to the inequalities that those who aren’t white face. This man seemed to be very aware of those problems and did what he could to balance them out in his industry.

      1. Tony Groves

        Hey folks,
        Colour-blind was actually the word used by the Late mans grandson at a Washington Dinner in honour of Dan prior to his passing. Hence why I included it.

      2. realPolithicks

        “Colour-blind is a term used generally as being blind to the inequalities that those who aren’t white face. ”

        Actually that’s not correct. Here in the US the term “color blind” actually means a person who is not influenced by the color of a persons skin. In other words you take the person for who they are rather than making judgments based on ethnic or racial stereotypes.

        1. missred

          I know what you are trying to say but in actual fact but the term is not about not making surface judgments, it’s about being blind to systemic inequalities faced by those who are not white. Saying you don’t “see colour” is to ignore these. I picked up on this term mentioned, as did Nigel, as being odd and incorrect to descibe the man this way, as my understanding that it is a pejorative term, shown here: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=colorblind%20racism

          Mr Rooney was far from being colourblind as he was keen to make his mark and stamp them out.

          1. realPolithicks

            “as my understanding that it is a pejorative term”

            I’m sorry, but that is simply not correct. I don’t know where you are located, but here in the US being considered “color blind” in relation to a persons race is a compliment. Merriam Webster defines it as:
            : not influenced by differences of race
            ; especially : free from racial prejudice

            As Tony said in his comment, Dan Rooney’s grandson described him as being color blind. He certainly didn’t mean it as a pejorative.

      1. Lord Snowflakee

        The same commenters get posted deleted or are put in moderation whereas far more offensive guys but who follow broadsheet editorial policy post here ad nauseaum

  3. cluster

    ‘Dan Rooney wouldn’t settle for our governments delaying tactics of Commissions of Inquiries or Reports from Retired Judges. He’d call out the malingers and wafflers and demand repercussions beyond tough questioning at public hearings.’

    What utter tosh, for two reasons:

    1) Solving complicated problems is a bit harder than merely ‘calling-out’ ‘malingers and wafflers’.
    2) He settled for delaying tactics on the NFL’s upcoming concussion problem which has the potential to destroy the NFL

      1. rotide

        Actually, he provided you with an example and a counter argument so it’s anything but projection.

  4. Kenny U-Vox Plank

    IN fairness, he was no Martin McGuinness. But RIP anyway. Condolences. He seemed reasonable bloke if terrible taste in anoraks.

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