More madness from the Washington Post sportspage The Detroit Lions football team is under fire for hiring Steve Mariucci without having first interviewed black candidates for the position. Mariucci was the successful young coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He left that team because it would not give him all of the authority he wanted. The Lions saw the opportunity to hire an outstanding coach. However, before doing so, the Lions sought to interview African-American candidates for the job in order to comply with league policy, which was implemented after Johnnie Cochran and another prominent “civil rights” lawyer threatened to sue the NFL for not having enough black head coaches. Unfortunately for the Lions, the black candidates they had in mind declined to be interviewed because they concluded, correctly it would appear, that the Lions wanted to hire Mariucci.
What is the Lions’ sin here? Even the civil rights lawyers say they are not attacking the selection of Mariucci. Rather, they are attacking the “process” through which he was hired. But the Lions attempted to follow the process. They offered interviews to African-Americans. The lawyers are really complaining that the Lions reached their decision earlier in the process than the lawyers would like them to. But so what? Either the decision to snatch Mariucci was racially motivated or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, and no one is suggesting that it was, then that should be the end of the matter. The civil rights nags are exalting form over substance or, more likely, are simply upset because their right to tell NFL owners how to run their businesses has been questioned.
As a footnote, I should add that last year at this time, the self-appointed guardians of racial fairness in coaching selections (the Post’s Michael Wilbon being the worst offender) were up in arms because the Tampa Bay Bucs didn’t hire as head coach an African-American named Marvin Lewis. Instead of hiring Lewis, who had never been a head coach, they selected John Gruden, the successful coach of the Oakland Raiders. This good piece of judgment was probably the biggest reason why Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl last month.
The attempt to import traditional principles of employment law into sports is misguided not primarily because of differences between sports and other employment settings. It is misguided primarily because ordinary employment law has lost its way.
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