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OJ Simpson’s lawyer, the Rooney Rule, and your NFL week 9 preview

Black coaches continue to be held to a higher standard, writes Steve O’Rourke.

Johnnie L Cochran (right) with prosecutor Marcia Clark during the OJ Simpson trial in 1995.
Johnnie L Cochran (right) with prosecutor Marcia Clark during the OJ Simpson trial in 1995.
Image: DPA/PA Images

Updated Nov 4th 2018, 10:26 AM

MOST READERS WILL know Johnnie L Cochran Jr for his role leading OJ Simpson’s defence team during the former running back’s trial for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Cochran is, after all, the man who during the trial’s most infamous moment — which saw Simpson try on the bloodied gloves that prosecutors alleged were used during the murder — who came up with the phrase: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

But when he wasn’t defending celebrities or signing book deals, Cochran, along with Cyrus Mehri, played a crucial role in shaping the NFL we know today.

In September 2002, the pair commissioned a ground-breaking report, ‘Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities,’ written by sociologist Janice Madden.

The report revealed that black NFL coaches were held to a higher standard than their white counterparts and were, therefore, being denied a fair chance to compete for head coaching jobs.

The proof was in the numbers. In a league where 70% of players are African American, by 2002 just five black coaches — Art Shell, Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes, Tony Dungy, and Herm Edward — had held a top job.

On the back of their report, Cochran and Mehri threatened to sue the NFL for its unfair hiring practices.

Within two months, the league formed a diversity committee, led by former Pittsburgh Steelers owner — and US ambassador to Ireland — Dan Rooney, and announced a diversity plan, which included the requirement that each team interview at least one minority candidate prior to selecting a head coach.

This requirement became known as the Rooney Rule and, since its implementation, 14 minority coaches have been giving the top role with an NFL team.

The Rooney Rule came into sharp focus earlier this year when the Oakland Raiders stretched the spirit of it by ‘interviewing’ USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin and their own tight ends coach Bobby Johnson despite already deciding on Jon Gruden.

OBIT: Dan Rooney The late Dan Rooney (centre) lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2006. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

That Oakland had previously appointed the league’s first Latino and black head coaches in Tom Flores and Art Shell shouldn’t give them a free pass, nor does their hiring of Hue Jackson in 2011.

Jackson, is responsible for the second best Raiders’ season since their last Super Bowl appearance, when his team went 8-8. But that didn’t stop him being fired by Oakland.

The 53-year-old — who has been coaching in the NFL since 2001 — received his marching orders again this week, this time from the Cleveland Browns.

Given that they’ve won just three games in 40 attempts, it’s hard to blame the Browns. In fact, his .205 win ratio is the second-worst of all head coaches with four or more years in the league.

While Cleveland had little choice with Jackson, it’s worth noting that, despite the Rooney Rule, black coaches are, on the whole, still judged to a much higher standard than their white colleagues.

In the past 40 years, 16 coaches have been fired from winning teams. 25% of them were African American despite making up just 9% of head coaching hires in that time.

MI: New England Patriots v Detroit Lions Ex-Lions head coach Jim Caldwell. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

In fact, you only have to look to Jim Caldwell — the second most successful coach in Detroit Lions’ history — who was sacked to make way for Matt Patricia this summer despite a winning record.

The NFL may have made strides towards fixing its bias when it comes to hiring, but it still has a long way to go when it comes to firing.

Week 7 picks (season record 70-50-2)

Sunday – 6pm 

Chicago Bears @ Buffalo Bills

Since 2011, Bills quarterback Derek Anderson has earned an estimated $14.3 million. In that time he has thrown eight touchdowns. Injury may prevent him from throwing another this weekend which means we get to see Nate ‘the human turnover machine’ Peterman in action.

Pick: Bears

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

The Bucs have returned to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback after Jameis Winston’s depressing performance last weekend. Carolina has started to string a few results together and though this has the potential to be a divisional trap game, they should keep their winning streak going.

Pick: Panthers

Kansas City Chiefs @ Cleveland Browns

NFL 2018: Steelers vs Browns OCT 28 Gregg Williams. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Gregg Williams — a man who once told his players ‘kill the head and the body will die’ — is the interim head coach of the Browns but, despite claims of 11 head coaching job offers, should be nowhere near the running for the job full-time. Kansas City will give up points, but with Mahomes, Hunt, Hill, and Kelce, they are always likely to outscore anyone.

Pick: Chiefs

New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins

Both teams started their seasons better than expected but have come back to earth since. At the time of writing, we don’t know who the Dolphins quarterback will be. Miami is well used to playing backups at that position recently and has won four of their past five against the Jets, including a victory back in week two.

Pick: Dolphins

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore will be disappointed to be sitting at 4-4 following their excellent start to the season. In fact, they’ve won just once in four games since victory over the Steelers. But with four of their final eight games against the Panthers, Chargers, Patriots and Saints, Pittsburgh needs a win here more.

Pick: Steelers

Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings

The trading of Golden Tate shows that the Lions are punting on this season. Last week’s loss to Seattle exposed their flaws on both sides of the football and the Vikings are well equipped to take advantage, even if Kirk Cousins isn’t quite living up to his massive contract just yet.

Pick: Chiefs

Atlanta Falcons @ Washington

NFL 2018: Redskins vs Giants OCT 28 Redskins running back Adrian Peterson (right) and New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Adrian Peterson doing what he’s doing at his age is a surprise on paper. But stick on the tape and you’ll see the offensive line is creating most of the gaps for the 33-year-old. Bill Callahan worked wonders with the Dallas front five during his time there and has found the magic again in Washington.

Pick: Washington

Sunday – 9.05pm 

Houston Texans @ Denver Broncos

After a lacklustre 0-3 start, the Texans are riding a five-win streak and will likely call upon the services of Demaryius Thomas whose first game since leaving Denver is… in Denver. The Broncos’ early season form has wilted away and, until John Elway learns how to draft or sign a quarterback, remain destined for mediocrity.

Pick: Texans

LA Chargers @ Seattle Seahawks

This is a really good test for both teams. I still have the Chargers as my Super Bowl pick from the AFC but Seattle’s form has surprised me as they’re claiming wins against opponents other than woeful NFC West teams. Whoever wins this one will really fancy their chances of playing meaningful January football.

Pick: Chargers

Sunday – 9.25pm 

LA Rams @ New Orleans Saints

The Golden State Warriors of the NFL got even better this week when they added pass rusher Dante Fowler to their ranks. The former Jag fills one of the few holes on their roster as the Super Bowl favourites enter win-now mode. However, the Saints return home after two big road wins and must not be overlooked.

Pick: Saints

Monday – 1.20am 

Green Bay Packers @ New England Patriots

Of course, the Rams only have the last undefeated record in football because of Ty Montgomery’s brain fart at the end of last week’s encounter with Green Bay. The Packers were so annoyed with Montgomery they shipped him off to Baltimore before the trade deadline. The Patriots scored their first defensive touchdown in forever against the Bills and could do with a few this week.

Pick: Packers

Tuesday – 1.15am

Tennessee Titans @ Dallas Cowboys

Only the Buffalo Bills have scored fewer than the Titans’ 106 points this season. So, if you’re staying up late, I wouldn’t expect this to be a high-scoring affair, especially as Dallas (123) is the only team in the league to concede fewer points than Tennessee.


- This article was originally published on 1 November at 10.43am, and updated today.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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