- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined Detroit Lions President Matt Millen $200,000 last week. The penalty had nothing to do with breaking the rules of the game or bringing public disgrace on the league through illegal activity, which are the usual reasons for punitive action in sports leagues. Millen has to cough up the cash because he did not interview any minority candidates before hiring a white guy as his club’s new coach. The NFL’s senseless position on affirmative action is a good example of the ripple effect bad Supreme Court decisions have nationwide.

There is no question that Steve Mariucci — who was hired — is the right man for this job. With a 60-43 record and four playoff appearances in six seasons for the San Francisco 49ers, he was by far the most proven coach available. Mariucci was also the favorite candidate of Motor City football fans because he is from Michigan and is close friends with successful and popular Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo. But adding a spark to the worst team in football has nothing to do with the NFL’s policy, which merely mandates phony appearances. Before hiring anyone, Millen invited five minority candidates to interview, but they all turned him down because it seemed obvious Mariucci would get the job. Intentions don’t count in the quotas game.

That the Lions were targeted is particularly wrong-headed. The team is owned and run by William Clay Ford — grandson of Henry Ford — and Bill Ford Jr., the current CEO of Ford Motor Co. The automaker, which is one of the NFL’s oldest and largest sponsors, has an aggressive affirmative-action policy and has been praised for marketing particularly to blacks. The team has a long history of minority hiring, and just last year, the family spent a fortune to move the Lions back into inner-city Detroit from the suburbs.

The NFL policy encourages dishonesty. The easy way for the Lions to avoid punishment would have been to hold a show interview with an unqualified minority coach just to be able to say they did so. Such a charade does not promote equal opportunity, or fairness or dignity for minorities. It’s about window dressing and blackmail. O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran and Jesse Jackson threatened boycotts if the Lions were not punished, and Tagliabue bowed in obedience. The commissioner’s shallowness hurts the game. Sportsmanship is about the best man winning, regardless of color. Black players did not come to dominate many sports because of affirmative action, but through talent. It is our view that the goal should be a colorblind world and that racially divisive policies like the NFL’s retard progress in that direction.

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