Black players key to empowerment


THE NFL DEMANDS control to the point of irrationality.

What else explains how the league could fine two Washington Redskins $10,000 each for wearing socks inconsistent with the mandated team ensemble, yet Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was fined only half as much for flipping off a fan.

Such painstaking attention to detail has helped build the most successful entertainment conglomerate in the world, but control has its limits.

In its commendable attempt to increase diversity in hiring, the league is looking foolish.

It is ridiculous that the Miami Dolphins must wait to hire LSU coach Nick Saban.

The Dolphins quickly targeted him. There's no questioning his qualifications. The Dolphins risked losing him to another team if they waited long to hire him.

But everything is on hold until the NFL approves the Dolphins' perfunctory interview of Art Shell, the first black head coach in the NFL's modern era.

Miami doesn't want to get "Millen-ed."

The NFL slapped Detroit Lions president Matt Millen with a $200,000 fine for violating the spirit of the Rooney rule, the league's directive that encourages more diversity in hiring head coaches. Millen knew he wanted Steve Mariucci two years ago, after throwing Marty Mornhinweg under the bus, and minority candidates knew the job would go to Mariucci. So none agreed to an interview.

Although Shell defends the legitimacy of his interview with Miami, it's hard not to think there wasn't some league coercion. Shell is the league's senior vice president of football operations.

It's a sham, but the greater shame is that African-Americans still don't understand the appreciable power they wield in the larger sports community.

If history teaches anything, it's that fundamental change is seized, not given. Yet that remains a principle lost on those angered by the poor numbers of minority head coaches in the NFL (five) and the appalling total in Division I-A college football (three).

Why isn't there a flood of top-rated black recruits flocking to UCLA, Washington and Mississippi State, the home of the Lone Three - Karl Dorrell, Tyrone Willingham and Sylvester Croom?

If more black stars did go to those schools, don't you think that would send a stronger message?

If NFL players are so outraged at what they perceive as a hiring injustice, why don't they reject the offending teams as free-agent destinations?

It's because it's much easier to look elsewhere for answers rather than look in the mirror. It's much easier to complain about someone else's deficiencies than it is to sacrifice our own personal agendas for the collective good.

Players have the power to evoke change.

Drew Sharp is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.

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