has long been used as a means of effecting cultural reform throughout society,
most notably with regard to achieving gender and racial equality. Gone are
the days of Jackie Robinson or Billie Jean King -- thankfully, of course,
because those represented periods of unwarranted discrimination, but sad
in a way, because they were also times when the fight for social equality
was borne of bravery and sacrifice, as opposed to greed and capitulation.
Instead, many of us today have embraced a new era of racial arm-twisting
and subversion in the sporting arena to accomplish desired political ends.
Such is the case with football commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who is ostensibly
putting in his bid to rename the National Football League (NFL) the Affirmative
Action Football League (or AAFL, for short). The commish recently reinforced
his policy mandating that all NFL teams consider, under penalty of fine,
at least one minority (read: black) candidate when interviewing for a head
coaching vacancy. And it looks like it’s working.
Former St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith has just become the
NFL’s fifth black head coach, hired recently by the Chicago Bears. The Chicago Tribune
reports that Tom Williams, creator of The Level Playing Field, an organization
that maintains a database of black candidates for pro and college football
coaching jobs, said, "The hiring of a fifth black coach is very significant
in showing that the NFL is hearing our protests."
What protests, you ask? In September 2002, lawyers Johnny Cochran and Cyrus
Mehri set out to reform the NFL's hiring practices, asserting that there
are not enough black head football coaches. While this indeed may be the
case (there also may not be enough coaches who are quadriplegics or midgets,
either), it’s hard to comprehend what a) constitutes "enough," and b) how
hiring a coach solely on the basis of skin color lives up to that whole "judge
us on the content of our character" thing that was, and should be, the whole
mantra of the civil rights movement.
Messrs. Cochran, Mehri, and Tagliabue are apparently very serious people
proposing very serious solutions to a very serious problem -- namely, that
NFL owners are bigots. But more likely, Commissioner Tagliabue is selling
out the merit of all black coaches by caving to the derogatory demands of
people like Johnny Cochran to avoid impending lawsuits should he not comply
with said demands.
However, both data and common sense suggest that Mr. Tagliabue could have
challenged the allegations from his adversaries before immediately waving
the white flag.
For example, considering that almost 70 percent of all NFL players are black,
it seems a little odd to assume that (white) owners are content to dole out
the majority of their payroll to black athletes, but then pretend they suddenly
become racists when it comes to choosing who will coach them.
Moreover, the problem with affirmative action, and its collateral quota systems
and preferential treatment of minorities, is that it works against the logic
of a meritocracy, a category into which the NFL clearly falls. In short,
if players don’t perform, they don’t play. The same rules obviously apply
to coaches, as winning is the only objective. One need only look at Steve
Spurrier and the Washington Redskins to realize that. Spurrier resigned following
year two of a five-year deal, during which his team posted a combined 12-22
won-loss record. While he wasn’t technically fired, it doesn’t require a
lofty guess to understand why he left.
It remains to be seen how this will all play out, but obviously this sort
of hiring policy will only be repudiated pending sufficient outcry from the
black community -- of which there is relatively little at this point, at
least as reported by the media. Tom Williams believes “[t]hings have come
full cycle now,” as five of the NFL’s 32 head coaches (or about 15 percent,
roughly the same percentage blacks comprise in current U.S. population) are
black. One is left to wonder, though, how pervasive a role “racism” has actually
played in the paucity of black coaches, if even Mr. Williams believes race
issues all of a sudden have come “full cycle” with the mere imposition of
intrusive interview guidelines.
It’s hard to understand how interviewing, and eventually selecting, candidates
for jobs (or admission to universities) on the basis of melanin count alone
will lead to a day when we judge people on their ability level rather than
on their heritage. I hate to ask, but is this what we’re even shooting for
Cyrus Mehri lauded the Bears’ hiring of Smith by stating, "This adds momentum
... but most important for Chicago fans, they got the right man for the job."
I’d like to believe this too, since NFL owners don’t usually make it a habit
to throw money away intentionally. In reality, however, we really don’t know
that now; all we really know is that the Bears apparently got the right color
man for the job.
These are sad times for the NFL and for society, indeed, even if some refuse to admit it.
Trevor Bothwell is the editor of The Right Report.