Monday, January 11, 2010

The letter, not the spirit, of the law

Tagging onto my commentary from yesterday (about which I still have some thoughts that I need to coherently put together before posting), there is another issue dealing with race in this country - one that will probably receive more attention from the Democratic members of Congress than Harry Reid's comments have. That is the NFL's Rooney Rule. Yes, that is the rule that was put forth by the owner of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers that required owners of teams to interview at least one minority candidate for open coaching (and subsequently general manager) positions. The underlying hope for this was to open the door to more minority coaches in the NFL. And, putting his money where his mouth was, Rooney himself hired Mike Tomlin several years ago when his former coach resigned. Tomlin, who is black, was not even one of the leading candidates prior to his interview with the Steelers but surprisingly won the job.

However, in the same way that quotas tend to work in the "real" world, compliance is often met with the letter of the law, if not the spirit. This season has been clearly indicative of following the letter of the law in regard to the hiring of new head coaches. The Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks both fired their previous coaches with clear designs on who their intended replacements would be - Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll, respectively. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to hire a specific individual if you think that person will able to provide the services you need. Frankly, I see nothing wrong with either team hiring the individuals that they hired.

No, the problem is that the teams paid lip service to following the Rooney Rule. The Redskins interviewed one of the assistant coaches already in the organization (several weeks before they ever fired the head coach!) in order to comply with the rule. And the NFL green-lighted the interview as being within the framework of the Rooney Rule. Frankly, the interview was clearly perfunctory as no one believed that he would be hired - the rumors regarding the Redskins pursuit of Shanahan was big news even before the interview and they were simply waiting until the end of the season when they could fire the previous coach and openly pursue him. Indeed, it took only two days for Shanahan to become the new coach after the season ended.

The Seahawks fired their coach a week later and there were rumors immediately following that there was an agreement in place to hire Pete Carroll - then the coach at the University of Southern California. However, before they could hire Carroll, they first had to interview a minority candidate. They asked Leslie Frazier (an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings who has interviewed for several positions previously) to interview and he promptly rejected the interview request on the basis that he would not have a serious chance at the position based on the rumors of Carroll's impending hire. However, additional negotiations took place and Frazier (and the NFL, apparently) was convinced that it would not be a pro forma interview and he would have a serious shot at the job. He was interviewed over the weekend and no further consideration was given to his chances for the job. Two days later, on Monday, Pete Carroll was officially announced as the new head coach - the person originally sought by the Seahawks. Again, Carroll may be the best person to help the team and they have every right to hire him.

The larger issue is that there is a regulation in place to help promote minority coaches in the NFL by mandating a quota to be interviewed and, while the regulation was technically followed, the spirit has seemingly been completely ignored. So should the rule be discarded (as it apparently does nothing more than create hypocrites of the NFL and the owners of the various teams)? Should additional efforts be made at enforcement with both the spirit and the letter of the regulation? If so, how do you ensure such enforcement? Would it not require "knowing his [the owners'] heart[s]" in order to determine whether the spirit is still being followed? And clearly, based on the racism issue that Harry Reid stepped into, seeing into one's heart is clearly subjective at best.

But don't worry, I have little doubt that the US Congress will step into the debate in the NFL and leaders from both sides (but especially on the Democratic side since this is one of their best political footballs) will demand new actions be taken to remedy this grievous error! I will hopefully be able to record Harry Reid as he speaks (from a script) with no hint of hypocrisy on the need for more black coaches in the NFL - just like our light-skinned president with no Negro dialect! (If not, someone will hopefully point me to the YouTube clip...)

1 comment:

  1. See my post for related Jan 10 blog.