Commentary: Millen fine raises questions

By RON COLBERT, UPI Sports Managing Editor  |  Aug. 4, 2003 at 6:58 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- Contrary to what people say or want us to believe, we have not come a long way on the race question.

In fact, my contention is if we have to have a rule that says NFL teams must interview minorities for head coaching jobs, we're regressing. If we've come so far, why do we need rules like this?

I heard a comment the other day that we're trying to legislate matters of the heart. At its core, that says it all.

If we've come so far, then why is the heart lacking?

Which brings me to the rhetoric I've heard in the past few days about the controversy surrounding the Detroit Lions.

Detroit President Matt Millen was fined $200,000 because he hired Steve Mariucci as head coach without interviewing any black candidates. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a letter to Millen that he was part of a panel that endorsed a recommendation by the NFL's Diversity Committee, and that Millen had reneged on his commitment.

Problem is the people who hired Millen are just as guilty if not more so.

Team owner William Clay Ford and vice chairman William Clay Ford Jr. should have been responsible for this mess. Because they weren't, Millen has been left to be the scapegoat.

Sure, Millen wanted to hire Mariucci, and we hear that the Lions tried to speak to potential black candidates but were blown off, mainly because there was talk that Mariucci was going to get the job, no matter what.

If we've come so far, then what did the heart ask in this instance? One thing is certain. It did not ask why were no minorities interviewed for this post. Millen knew whom he wanted, and I have no problem with that. Also, it would be ludicrous to think that any owner can be told who to hire or would abide by a rule that sets a guideline for such.

I have no idea why, in the same circumstance, the San Francisco 49ers were not fined after they hired retread Dennis Erickson, whose name never was mentioned as that team searched for a replacement for the man it fired, ironically Mariucci.

The NFL has been notoriously slow in hiring blacks for any positions of authority. Matter of fact, I learned in a Washington Post article Monday that Larry Lee, a Lions' front office executive who was on a fast track, now is the bass player for a band called "Back in the Day."

What a waste! And the Lions hired Millen without interviewing Lee, who was still a Lions employee at the time.

When I hear about situations like this, I have a leg to stand on, for those who give a hoot. And when it comes to sports teams and the people they have in positions of authority and hiring and firing personnel, this is old hat. And people wonder why the "heart" has to be legislated.

Why, since we've made such strides, is this rule necessary? When you can answer that question, from the heart as it were, you'll know the answer.

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