NFL considers offering incentives to discriminate on the basis of race [UPDATED]

Today, the National Football League is considering a proposal to enable teams to improve their draft position by hiring minority candidates for coaching and executive positions. As I understand the proposal, a team that hires a minority head coach would move up six spots in the third round of the following year’s draft. Hiring a minority general manager would enable a team to move up ten spots in that round. The plan includes a few other similar incentives.

My first observation is that the plan is unlikely to spur minority hiring. A six to ten spot improvement in the third round of the draft isn’t worth very much. It pretty clearly isn’t worth bypassing a white coach or general manager a team wants to select.

My second observation is that the plan provides an incentive, albeit a very weak one, to discriminate on the basis of race. It’s a bribe to take race into account in the hiring process. Yet, taking race into account in the hiring process is illegal.

I doubt the proposal would spur litigation. Suing the NFL is a bad move for someone who aspires to be a head coach or general manager. Moreover, hiring discrimination is very difficult to prove when it comes to jobs for which the qualifications are highly subjective. And, again, the incentive to discriminate provided here is small. It would be tough to prove that it was even a contributing factor to a decision to hire a minority candidate with decent credentials.

The proposal would spur resentment, however. Rejected white candidates would suspect they lost out because of their race. Blacks selected for head coach and GM jobs might wonder whether management really considered them the best candidate.

In fact, two prominent black coaches have questioned the wisdom of the proposal. Tony Dungy, a former coach and Super Bowl winner, fears unintended consequences from its implementation, including the two I mentioned in the paragraph above. Dungy said he has spoken with other black coaches who share his concerns.

Anthony Lynn, head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, put it best: “Sometimes you can do the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing.”

Encouraging owners not to overlook highly qualified minority candidates is the right thing to do. Artificially tipping the balance in favor of minority candidates is the wrong thing.

UPDATE: The NFL has “tabled” the proposal to use its college draft to provide incentives for minority hiring for coaching and executive positions. I hope the tabling is a face-saving way to bury this ill-advised approach.

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