Why our football needs its own version of NFL 'Rooney rule' to really eradicate racism

Paul Davis gets a reaction when he tells black players they should study for their coaching badges and try to become managers.

"The guys laugh in my face," he says.

It's not because they're rich or lazy or complacent or arrogant.

It's because they think it's futile. It's a waste of their time and a threat to their dignity. It's because their path is blocked.

Sometimes, they mention what happened to Davis himself. How he spent five years coaching the U13s and U15s at Arsenal before he quit in 2003 after his failure to progress.

Do you remember what Davis was like as an Arsenal player? Cultured, elegant, a clever passer of the ball. A thinking man's player.

He won the title twice under George Graham in 1989 and 1991. He's a bright bloke, too. Personable, articulate and smart. He could show players his medals, too.

Let's be honest: if Davis was white, one of our league clubs would have snapped him up as soon as his playing career had finished.

It never happened. And after he quit as a youth coach, he hasn't even bothered to put himself forward for management jobs. His confidence is shot.

"I don't want to put myself in a situation where people are embarrassing me," he says. "I am not confident about the hiring processes.

"Now, I see the same kind of fear in the eyes of more players who are coming through and want to be managers."

Davis, 49, works for the Professional Footballers' Association now, desperately trying to improve the chances of players from ethnic minorities finding a manager's job.

Because let's face it, the situation at the moment is embarrassing.

We have some room to boast about the progress we have made in tackling racism in football in this country.

But there are 92 managers of Premier League and Football League clubs and only two of them - Chris Powell at Charlton and Chris Hughton at Birmingham City -are black.

That means that 25% of our 4,500 professional players are from ethnic minorities and only 2% of our managers.

Davis wants to do something about it. So does the man who was sitting next to him at a hotel in London's Kensington yesterday morning.

Cyrus Mehri, an eminent lawyer who is one of the architects of the Rooney Rule in American Football's NFL, addressed representatives of the FA, the Premier League, the PFA and the League Managers' Association yesterday.

Many are now pressing for our clubs to be forced to adopt an English equivalent of the Rooney Rule.

Named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the rule, which was introduced in 2003, obliged NFL teams to interview at least one black candidate when a head coaching position became vacant.

The Rooney Rule transformed the league. There are four times more black head coaches now than there were in 2003.

And guess what, many of them have been outstandingly successful. In fact, in 2007 both the teams that reached the Super Bowl, the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears, were run by black coaches.

"There were some problems at first," Mehri said. "The Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones thought it was okay to interview the black candidate over the phone and all the white candidates face to face.

"If there is passive racism present somewhere, we have found it erodes during the interview process. Sometimes, people are surprised with the calibre of a man when they meet him face to face.

"What kind of message is English football sending with someone like Paul Davis? If he was white, he would be fast-tracked. If he is black, he will be marginalised.

"We are not saying clubs have to hire minority candidates. We are just saying 'give them a chance, maybe you don't know what you're missing'."

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