When did America's most popular sport turn fascist? The National Football League wielded its dictatorial powers with glee on July 25, when it fined Detroit Lions president Matt Millen $200,000 for failing to interview a black candidate for the team's vacant head-coaching position. "You did not take sufficient steps to satisfy the commitment that you had made," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue scolded.
The NFL's Committee on Workplace Diversity recommended last December that each team interview at least one "minority" candidate each time it sought to hire a new head coach. This policy ranks among the dumbest ideas of all time, up there with the helicopter ejection seat and communism. It requires not that teams hire the minority candidate but that they merely grant a token interview. Yet, teams are not allowed to dispense with those token interviews and hire the best-qualified candidate.
The diversity policy uses "minority" as a code word for black. If Millen had interviewed Marv Levy (Jewish), the winningest coach in Buffalo Bills history (his teams went 112-70 with four Super Bowl appearances during the period from 1986 to 1997), Millen probably wouldn't have escaped a fine. If Millen had interviewed Tom Flores (Hispanic), great Oakland Raiders coach (his teams won two Super Bowls and went 83-53 from 1979 to 1987), Millen likely wouldn't have evaded criticism. If Millen had interviewed Gary Coleman, Millen would have gotten off scot-free.
For Millen and the Lions, this fine is especially bitter -- the Lions actually tried to interview black candidates. The team asked five black candidates to interview for the job. Each turned the interview down, knowing that former San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci would be hired. So Millen simply hired Mariucci without interviewing a black candidate.
Does this make Millen a racist? The Detroit Lions have 12 blacks in high-ranking team positions, including offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis, senior vice president Martin Mayhew, director of pro personnel Sheldon White, and head athletic trainer Al Bellamy. But that doesn't matter -- Millen didn't interview a black candidate for head coach.