John Leo

The league is responding (quite poorly) to Jesse Jackson-type tactics mounted by two aggressive attorneys, Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran. The attorneys issued a blistering report last fall endorsing the conclusion that the league is suffering from "submerged racism" and threatened to sue. The prospect of long and expensive litigation, accompanied by a steady drumbeat of "racism" charges, startled the league. The owner of the Lions, William Clay Ford Jr., began talking about how he was once named the NAACP's man of the year, a sure sign of panic.

Also startling for the league was the Mehri-Cochran demand that teams lose first-round draft choices for failures on the diversity frontier. The $200,000 fine levied against the Lions, and the $500,000 maximum for similar offenses, are chump change to owners. Draft choices, however, are another matter.

So the league buckled with blinding speed, averting the suit and the draft-choice issue (at least for now). The mandatory interviews with black job candidates got most of the publicity, but those three committees will have a lot more to say. The settlement with Mehri and Cochran, if that is the right word, sets up monitoring programs and diversity structures that may hobble owners and management for years to come.

That was the pattern in the racial settlement at Texaco, arranged in part by Mehri. Anti-preference leaders Ward Connerly and Edward Blum called the bias claims against Texaco "specious." But rather than face a boycott and a tide of bad publicity, the company settled for $176 million and installed many questionable diversity programs, including tying executive compensation to cooperativeness on diversity plans.

Fast Company magazine reported that Mehri "is determined to reshape the companies that he sues" and that his settlements "often include substantial changes" beyond what a judge might impose. Does the NFL understand it is about to be reshaped?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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