Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently made a remarkably, bold statement in public — and, no, it didn’t involve Barcelona or North Korea or Afghanistan.

This announcement was about recruitment and hiring. In the U.S. Department of State.

On August 18, Tillerson explained, “We have a great diversity gap in the State Department. We need a State Department that reflects the American people, that reflects who we are …”

Then later, in his speech, Tillerson sternly announced, “To better understand our talent pool, I have directed the relevant committees to adopt a new procedure. Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate.”

Now, if you take Tillerson at his word, he essentially is instituting the National Football League’s Rooney Rule into the hiring policy of the State Department.


An ambitious announcement drowned out by the maelstrom of all this 24/7 Donald Trump Nazi/Ku Klux Klan racial turmoil catastrophe, toppling of Confederate statues, terrorist attacks both domestic and abroad, protests/counter-protests, and resignations of prominent White House figures.

In the name of that velvety-voiced Motown singer/political lyricist Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On.” But first, what is the NFL’s Rooney Rule?

In 2002, the NFL, in an effort to infuse people of color into the coaching pipeline, mandated that each of the 32 teams must interview at least one non-white candidate for head-coaching vacancies. The Rooney Rule later evolved to include team general managers and other executive-level positions. Failure to comply can result in penalties, such as fines and/or loss of college draft picks.

And, in 2016, the league expanded the policy even further by requiring the NFL main office to interview women for executive positions.

It’s obvious that Tillerson adopted the newest version of the Rooney Rule because he also cited a need to hire more women, who comprise a mere third of the senior foreign service officers in the State Department.

As the 2017 NFL regular season approaches, this implementation of a 15-year-old pro sports league rule into our government and other enterprises is quite remarkable.

On Sept. 28, 2016, Joyce Beatty, a black Democratic congresswoman from Ohio, introduced the “Ensuring Diverse Leadership at the Federal Reserve Act of 2016, H.R. 6225” before the House of Representatives. The bill would amend the Federal Reserve Act to require that in making appointments of Fed bank presidents, “a Federal Reserve Bank must interview at least one individual reflective of gender diversity and one reflective of racial or ethnic diversity.”

In March of this year, Raphael Bostic — a public policy professor at the University of Southern California after serving as assistant secretary for policy and development in the Department of Housing and Urban Development during President Barack Obama’s first term — was named president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Thus, in the 104-year history of the Federal Reserve system, Bostic became the first black person to lead any of the 12 regional reserve banks. That means Bostic is now the answer to a great “Jeopardy!” question.

Afterward, a jubilant Beatty wrote in an op-ed for The Hill: “Today, the Rooney Rule has moved beyond the hash marks and front offices of the NFL, and found a home in the tech industry and even the halls of Congress. Facebook, Intel, Pinterest, Amazon, Xerox and Senate Democrats have all implemented their own version of the Rooney Rule. It’s time for the financial industry to follow suit.”

As for Tillerson, he read off a specific set of action steps to improve upon the lowly demographic statistics he mentioned during his presentation, such as the fact that only 9 percent of the foreign service specialists and 5 percent of the foreign service generalists in the State Department are black.

Tillerson outlined that the State Department will recruit more than Ivy League types, saying there will be more of a concerted effort to tap into the more than 100 historically black colleges and universities to increase the talent pool as well as target Hispanic-serving educational institutions. He added that 10 percent of the State Department’s foreign service specialists and 6 percent of its foreign service generalists are Hispanic.

Saying that the department’s hiring freeze was temporary, Tillerson proclaimed that his organization will do more than just “coming through town once a year and dropping some pamphlets off at the recruiting office.”

Such as appear more frequently at job and career fairs that focus on people of color.

At the end, Tillerson removed his reading glasses and spoke extemporaneously.

“I know from my long career in the private sector, my experience has been the value of diversity in the workplace. It enriches our work; it enriches our work product. …

“More importantly, I will say to you as individuals, that if you are open, you will enrich your life. You will enrich your life by engaging with people of different backgrounds, different life experiences than you had as you were growing up. And you will find life to be a wonderful mosaic.”

A remarkable morning, for sure, in the midst of an out-of-control global news cycle of constant negativity.