Racial parody in the NFL

Posted: Jan 06, 2003 12:00 AM
The Dallas Cowboys want to win so much that they have just hired one of the top coaches in the game, and for that they should pay the price -- because the coach is white. At least according to superlawyer Johnnie Cochran and other leaders of a group protesting the NFL's hiring practices. They want the Cowboys to lose a highly prized draft pick because their next coach will be Bill Parcells, whose career record is 138-100, but whose melanin count is low. So pervasive is racial quota-mongering that it has now seeped even into the nation's weekend passion, where it will feature its usual futility and absurdity. Cochran's group, threatening a lawsuit, managed to get the NFL in December to agree that every team with a coaching vacancy "seriously" interview at least one minority candidate, as a step toward redressing the racial balance in its coaching ranks (only two head coaches are black). It's hard to find a more cutthroat meritocracy than today's NFL, or -- one would think -- a poorer playing field for bean-counting notions of racial justice. Seventy percent of NFL players are black. Where are all the whites, the Hispanics, the Asians, the Inuits? A better question: Who cares? The best players are on the field every Sunday, because winning is everything. So why wouldn't Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hire Parcells? The quota-mongers are upset that Jones met with Parcells twice in person and only talked on the phone once with Dennis Green, the black former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. This supposedly constitutes a violation of "the spirit" of the NFL's new hiring policy. But Parcells has taken every team he's coached to the playoffs by the second year of his tenure. Green got fired a year ago by the Vikings after losing control of the team to the prima donna wide receiver Randy Moss. Whom should Jones hire? And what if -- as is likely -- Jones intended to hire Parcells months ago, no matter who he met with or talked to, black or white? Did he then commit a racial thought crime? College football had two high-profile black coaches this year. One, Tyrone Willingham, has been a success story at Notre Dame and occasionally seemed almost worthy of former NFL coach Bum Phillips' compliment about legend Bear Bryant: "He can take his'n and beat your'n, then turn around and take your'n and beat his'n." The other, Bobby Williams, was fired from Michigan State after a 3-6 season. Is Notre Dame pro-black? Is Michigan State racist? The next step of the Cochran policy, logically, would be not just to encourage teams to hire blacks but to discourage teams from firing them. If this seems outrageous, just consider former University of Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson, who is suing the school on grounds that his firing last March was racially motivated, even though the once-mighty team was 13-13. The remedy for the paucity of black coaches isn't to make Jones pretend to be interested in hiring Green. That's just useless symbolism. Nor is it to condemn NFL owners as racist. That's just poisonous accusation. The remedy is time. For many reasons, head coaches both in the NFL and at the college level have tended through the years to be white -- meaning that white coaches are the ones already in the long pipeline for high-profile jobs. Today, talented blacks are probably looking at someone like Willingham, saying "I can do that," and undertaking the hard coaching slog, from underachieving player (stars don't make good coaches), to years of high-school coaching and assistant jobs, then, finally, to a chance at the top. Years from now, some of those men will be added to the ranks of black head coaches in the NFL. It won't have anything to do with Cochran, nor will it have anything to do with race. It will be because they can win -- exactly as it should be.