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No football for me this year
By Trevor Bothwell
Well, we're a few 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 commish 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 Franciso 49ers following last year's campaign.
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 who 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 in futility.
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.
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