Dan Rooney, the longtime Steelers chairman who led the NFL’s diversity efforts for decades has died at the age of 84. He started working with the Steelers as a water boy at the age of 12 and he worked in the front office after graduating from Duquesne University in 1955.
He served as general manager from 1975 to 2003 when his son then took over the duty of the day to day running of the team. Tributes have been taking place on social media following the passing of Dan Rooney.
President Obama issued the following statement:
“Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage, I knew hed do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my highest expectations, and I know the people of Ireland think fondly of him today. And I know the people of Pittsburgh, who loved him not only for the Super Bowl championships he brought as the owner of the Steelers, but for his generosity of spirit, mourn his passing today. Michelle and I offer our condolences to the Rooney family, some of the most gracious and thoughtful people we know – even as we celebrate the life of Dan Rooney: a championship-caliber good man.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote: “Few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney.” One of the current Steelers, wide receiver Antonio Brown, left the following message on Instagram: “You looked at me as more than just another jersey number. One of the most genuine, and humble human beings I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. You motivated me not only to excel on the field but also in life. This season, the number 84 on my uniform will represent the 84 years you spent on this earth making an impact on the lives of others.”
Rooney is best known for his efforts to make the league’s coaching ranks more diverse and for his appointment as ambassador to Ireland by President Obama. The Rooney Rule was created in 2003 and required teams to interview minorities for head coaching vacancies and senior football operations jobs. This rule was then expanded in 2016 to include women for executive openings.
From 2003 to 2017, seventeen minority head coaches were hired by NFL teams which was more than double the number that had been hired since the league was founded in 1920. At present there are eight minority coaches in the NFL which includes Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
Rooney has long been a supporter of Ireland and has raised millions to support cultural and education efforts here at home.