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NFL broadens affirmative action policy

Arguably professional sports are the epitome of pure capitalism. 

Regardless of the sport, the athletes we watch, idolize and maybe emulate spend years honing God-given skills, sometimes to the exclusion of almost everything else, and at risk of debilitating injuries, to overcome vicious competition for a limited number of incredibly lucrative jobs. For example, by one estimate just one of every 4,200 high school football players will be drafted into the NFL, and being drafted is no guarantee of being paid to play.

Assuredly, then, pro athletes are the best of the best — and, as capitalism dictates, are compensated accordingly.

But despite the Darwinian mindset evident in professional sports, the major leagues often cannot escape Social Justice Warrior philosophy. The NFL offers a recent example.

On Tuesday, NFL owners supported new hiring policies for coaches and executive personnel. The updates stem from a 2003 policy called the Rooney Rule. Named for former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, it requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for a head coaching vacancy. 

The change requires NFL teams to interview at least two minority candidates for such jobs. Yet it would also extend the Rooney Rule to the offensive and defensive coordinator posts, the top assistant coaching jobs that are considered stepping stones to becoming a head coach. Teams must now interview at least one minority candidate for those openings. 

Additionally, the owners also backed a proposal to mandate interviews with minorities and women for senior front office jobs, up to and including team president.

Meanwhile, the owners shelved a plan to allow teams that hire minorities to leapfrog others in later rounds of the annual college player draft. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that could be brought back. 

Undoubtedly, racial discrimination led some team owners in the past to pass on top-notch black former players and assistant coaches for critical jobs, whether on the field or in the executie suite. Considering that, the Rooney Rule has likely created well needed opportunities for black, and the increasing number of Hispanics in the game, that did not exist before.  

But expanding and intensifying such hiring practices seems counterintuitive to what professional sports are all about. After all, anyone who suggested the NFL or the NBA, which are populated predominantly by black athletes, would be mercilessly and appropriately ridiculed for suggesting a quota for hiring white players.

Interestingly, one leading critic of the NFL’s hiring proposals was Tony Dungy, who is the first black coach to win the Super Bowl and to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Few people have done more to advocate for greater diversity in the NFL than Dungy, who is among the NFL’s most respected ambassadors. On Monday, however, Dungy told NBC Sports that while he hoped these proposed policies would spark “some … consideration and some communication and conversation,” he called the hiring plan “drastic,” adding “I don’t think personally it’s the right thing to do.”

Dungy said he has spoken to several black coaches and they worry about unintended consequences. 

“There’s three things that they’re worried about,” he told NBC. “Number one, how does this put me in my relationship with the other coaches that I work with, and other white coaches? Are they thinking I’m getting an advantage now? Number two, when that general manager or owner hires me, is he hiring me because he thinks I’m the best person, or is he hiring me to move his draft choice up a little bit? And then the third thing this is nobody feels like they want anything special . … Don’t hire me and then say I’m going to give you more draft choices later on because you need help.”

“I know that’s not the reason why the proposal is being put in, I know that’s not what they’re driving at, but that’s still the end result. And so there’s still some things the league needs to think about,” Dungy added.

“I just have never been in favor of rewarding people for doing the right thing.”

In professional sports, the measurements of quality production and the earned rewards for that are easier to spot and quantify than in most segments of society. But these new hiring policies for the sidelines and the main office could, as Dungy suggests, raise doubts about whether team owners are seeking out the best people for their organizations or simply checking boxes to hold the SJWs at bay.

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