Well, we're two weeks
into the 2003-04 professional football season, and I've managed to keep a
promise I made to myself a couple months ago: I vowed a complete and total
boycott of the NFL.
Let me explain.
As many sports fans are aware, the NFL has come under fire during the past
year due to perceived inequity in its coaching ranks. Civil rights advocacy
groups have, in essence, pressured league commissioner Paul Tagliabue to
either improve coaching opportunities for minorities (read African-Americans),
or face the consequences, namely litigation.
Spearheading the charge to eliminate the apparent racist hiring practices
employed by team owners are Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri, who claim that
black coaches are severely underrepresented in football's highest coaching
ranks. So effective have these two men been, in fact, that they have persuaded
Commissioner Tagliabue to implement guidelines NFL teams must follow in order
to increase the "diversity" of their coaching staffs.
Detroit Lions president Matt Millen fell victim to the NFL's new policy recently
when he was fined $200,000 by the league for not interviewing any minority
candidates prior to hiring the highly successful Steve Mariucci, who was
relieved of his coaching duties by the San Francisco 49ers following last
Rather than highlighting the effectiveness of the NFL's new diversity initiative,
or "leveling the playing field in the NFL," as Hall of Fame tight end Kellen
Winslow has claimed, the decision to fine Millen merely indicates the absurdity
of the league's intentions. Although it was no secret that Millen wanted
to hire Mariucci, he offered interviews to five black candidates (one of
whom was Lions offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis). Each proceeded to reject
Millen's offer, ostensibly due to the fact that they all suspected Mariucci
already had the job if he wanted it.
The fining of Matt Millen exposes one of many gaping holes in the new diversity
logic of the NFL. Should team presidents be fined when they attempt to follow
these ridiculous social engineering measures implemented by the league, even
if minority candidates decline interviews?
Moreover, will NFL teams meaningfully express concern with these divisive
measures that are already treating minority coaches as tokens--rather than
as professionals--to avoid paying a fine? And what would Johnny Cochran have
to say about team presidents who follow these nascent interview mandates
to a tee by evaluating midgets, Pakistani women and Catholic nuns--social
minorities all--for coaching vacancies, but no black men?
Perhaps the most foolish aspect of the NFL's new hiring policies is that
it presently stands to serve minority coaches little benefit under its current
design. Assuming that racial discrimination on the part of NFL owners or
team presidents does indeed exist--which may be hard to prove considering
that almost 70 percent of all NFL players are black--it's hard to understand
how a policy of merely requiring teams to interview minorities accomplishes
its desired end; teams currently aren't forced to hire minority candidates,
only to interview them. Indeed, the Lions have pointed out that Dallas and
Jacksonville avoided fines by granting token interviews to former Minnesota
Vikings coach Dennis Green, but opted in the end to hire white coaches.
So we arrive again at my boycott.
It's not all too likely that I stand to gain widespread support for this
little cause of mine, even among those in conservative circles. Football
has practically surpassed baseball as America's favorite pastime, and convincing
men and women of all stripes to resist the excitement of tailgating, beer-drinking,
fantasy leagues and gathering with friends around the TV for the weekend
rituals that define our autumn and winter months is likely a perfect lesson
But that's the point. My decision to engage in this protest didn't come easily.
For years I've anticipated the start of football season, but I am fully disheartened
that a profession solely defined by meritorious achievement could listlessly
fall victim to demagogues concerned more with lining their own pockets than
actually lining the sidelines of football fields with more minority coaches.
In the present climate, how long will it be before a jilted football coach
enlists the services of a Mr. Cochran because he claims he should have been
hired, or shouldn't have been fired? Are we going to see "minimum service
requirements" for teams that decide to hire minority coaches, or will they
be allowed to hire and fire them like they would any white coach? Most disturbingly,
will even black coaches want this program, potentially scoffing at not really
knowing whether they were best qualified for their coaching assignments,
or whether Whitey just threw them a bone to appease a timid football commissioner?
All of this makes for more divisive times ahead, not less. One might wonder
why it's so readily assumed that black activists automatically have the best
interests of other blacks in mind, but there is practically no dissent or
outcry from NFL associates on this matter. Surely they can't all agree with
this new policy.
We will never be able to have constructive discussions about race in this
country if we're more worried about being called racists by questioning the
intentions of minority leaders than we are with doing what is right. It's
time for Americans to put an end to racial polarization and start acting
like we're all on the same team.
We could start by giving Matt Millen his money back. But until that day comes,
for me the NFL will simply represent business as usual, not the intense competition
and excitement of years past. It can obviously get by without me.
Trevor Bothwell is the editor of The Right Report.