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Welcome to the AAFL
by Trevor Bothwell
16 January 2004NFL

Paul Tagliabue recently reinforced his policy mandating that all NFL teams consider, under penalty of fine, at least one minority candidate when interviewing for a head coaching vacancy

Professional athletics 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 anymore?

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

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