Friday, July 25, 2003

The Culture: NFL Clips Head Lion

While I'm a big fan of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, he got it wrong on this one:
Detroit Lions president Matt Millen was fined $200,000 by the NFL on Friday for not interviewing any minority candidates before hiring coach Steve Mariucci.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent a letter to Millen informing him of the fine.

After coach Marty Mornhinweg was fired by the Lions in January, Mariucci was the only person interviewed for the job. The team said five minority candidates turned down interviews because it appeared inevitable Mariucci would be hired.

"While certain of the difficulties that you encountered in seeking to schedule interviews with minority candidates were beyond your control, you did not take sufficient steps to satisfy the commitment that you had made,'' Tagliabue wrote.

Tagliabue also has said that future failures to interview minority candidates for a head coaching opening could lead to fines of $500,000 or higher as "conduct detrimental'' to the NFL.
To put this fine in context, three years ago Tagliabue fined Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis $250,000 after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice in a double-homicide case. Lewis' fine was an NFL record for a non-drug-offense, and Millen's fine may well be a record for an administrative fine. Yet most of us would not equate Millen's offense against political correctness with Lewis' illegal conduct.

Millen is no racist. His failing here was contacting numerous minority candidates for his coaching vacancy—as required by NFL policy—but then being turned down by these same candidates, who believed Millen had already made up his mind to hire Mariucci. This was likely true, but Millen did follow the letter of the NFL rule. He cannot be held responsible for the decisions of the minority candidates not to return his calls.

The $250,000 fine is also an indirect assault on the integrity of Mariucci, since the size of the fine leads an outside observer to believe there was no rational justification for hiring the coach. In fact, Mariucci was superbly qualified, having been (unjustly) fired by the San Francisco 49ers weeks before Millen decided to fire his own lesser-qualified coach, Marty Mornhinweg. It's also important to note that when Millen took over as Lions' president, it was widely reported that he wanted to lure Mariucci away from the 49ers, and that when that didn't pan out, he hired Mornhinweg, then a top Mariucci assistant. So it came as no great surprise than when Mariucci was finally available, Millen seized the opportunity.

The NFL, for its part, expected Millen to lie about his true intentions—hiring Mariucci on the spot—and parade at least one African-American coaching candidte through the Lions' offices. This does not reflect the NFL's commitment to "diversity," but rather the league's aversion to litigation. Tagliabue & Company are scared of a potential lawsuit from race-mongerers like Johnnie Cochran. Not that such a lawsuit would have merit, but there would be costs imposed, both in legal defense and public relations. It's far easier (and more cowardly) for the NFL to fine Millen now as a sacrifice to the Cochrans of the world.

UPDATE: It just struck me that the Lions play in Michigan (duh!) I guess this means John Dingell will be calling for Matt Millen to leve the state immediately.

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