Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The right thing, the winning thing

If he never does another thing, Dan Rooney has shown that you don't have to be a Democrat to do the right thing.

Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and lifelong Republican, has been credited with coming up with the "Rooney Rule," which mandates that NFL teams interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching vacancies.

For this bit of ingenuity and thoughtfulness, Rooney and his franchise were rewarded with an NFL-record sixth Super Bowl championship after head coach Mike Tomlin led the Steelers to a title in his second season.

Of course, this was no big surprise given the Rooney family history:

Figures. Dan Rooney was born in 1932. His old man, Art ("The Chief"), bought the Steelers in 1933. That was the same year Ray Kemp became the first African-American to play for the team. Twenty-four years later, the Steelers became the first NFL team to hire an African-American assistant coach, Lowell Perry. And in 1984, the Steelers were the first to hire an African-American as a coordinator. You might have heard of him -- Tony Dungy.
Tomlin, 36, became the youngest-ever coach to win the Super Bowl and did it just two years after Dungy became the first black coach to win the title. That Tomlin is black seemed to have been an afterthought Sunday.

Some might call Tomlin an affirmative action hire. And that's fine. Tomlin is the living, breathing embodiment of affirmative action as it should be implemented. He owns his position due to his skills and his talents, not his ideology or his opinions or his connections.

Tomlin wasn't even the first minority interviewed for the Steelers' opening two years ago. That happened to be Ron Rivera, who's now the defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers.

"We called Mike in and talked to him," Rooney said. "He was very impressive. We got him back and talked to him on the phone and he just kept showing that he was going to be a terrific coach, which I think is coming to bear. But he definitely was not part of the Rooney Rule."
Given an open door, Tomlin just barged on through it. All he needed was the opportunity. This turned out to be a good business decision for the Steelers, no?

Which brings us back to affirmative action. Starting in the mid-90s, affirmative action became a bright, blinking, neon target of conservatives - then in the midst of the "Angry White Male" revolution. They argued that the accomplishments of people who benefited from such programs were tainted, even devalued, because they were chosen - or "given" - their positions. They argued that some had been denied jobs because of a preference or "entitlements" for unqualified minorities. They even argued that affirmative action prevented racial reconciliation, a movement toward a post-racial America that apparently didn't arrive until Barack Obama was sworn into office on Jan. 20.

Pardon me, but bullshit.

Republicans and conservatives themselves have been guilty of engaging in the worst kind of affirmative action, often going out of their way to reward marginal candidates with jobs - many times with the hope that they'd fail as proof of their manifest superiority. Folks like Clarence Thomas, Sarah Palin and now Michael Steele serve a peculiar purpose in that regard.

In the words of the late, great Ralph Wiley, who was speaking of Armstrong Williams but could have been talking about anyone in the aforementioned trio:

"And then he said some predictable things against 'affirmative action,' not realizing, probably, that was the perfect embodiment of it as it should not (emphasis mine) be implemented. He rented his office due to his opinions ... He said all the right things to the privileged and they opened their burgeoning coffers to make sure he was heard."

Certainly he couldn't have been talking about Steele, who didn't pass the Maryland Bar Exam in his only attempt, once compared stem cell research to Nazi experiments during the Holocaust and defended former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s decision to hold a $100,000 fundraiser at a country club that did not allow non-white members, saying that the club’s membership’s policies were “not an issue” because “I don’t play golf"?

Nah. Probably not.

But given that sort of track record, it's doubtful that we'll see the Republicans - as a party - rewarded as richly as the Rooneys anytime soon. Even today, even after all the evidence, they don't seem to realize that affirmative action doesn't have to be a handout or a means to reward mediocrity

And just maybe that's the difference between holding the Lombardi Trophy and refusing to avail yourself of the process. Is it really any wonder that Matt Millen was on the wrong side of history there? And, thus far, the Republicans?

As usual, the Rooneys have been revealed to be men who are ahead of their times. They've got the glittery hardware to prove it.

It's time his fellow Republicans followed their lead - if they're truly interested in the right thing. And really, the lifeblood of any true political party: victories.


Jack T. said...

"...defended former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s decision to hold a $100,000 fundraiser at a country club that did not allow non-white members, saying that the club’s membership’s policies were “not an issue” because “I don’t play golf"?"

That's serious right there. I hadn't heard about that. I used to think Steele was a smart guy backing the wrong party, but now I think he's That Guy. You know That Guy. He's the only black guy where he is, and he's trying to keep it that way. He agrees with all the backhanded comments, overstated stories, and wild accusations about Black Folks. Armstrong is getting paid on this, and Justice Thomas is too. It's a shame to watch, because I'm constantly having to back him down a peg when I'm asked "Do you disagree with (That Guy)?" "Well, (That Guy) said this on the news the other day..." which feels to me like I'm being asked "Why can't you be more like (That Guy)?"

I can't stand That Guy. He makes it hard on the rest of us.

blackink said...

"That Guy" is a good way of putting it. Michael Steele is appealing on many levels to Republicans but particularly because he's not threatening and he's not going to challenge them in any substantive way.

Steele is not saying or proposing anything new for a party desperately in need of something new. He's echoing talking points in blackface.

Esquire said...

Nice piece man. What always gets to me in affirmative action debates is how it's only when it could benefit us is it questioned. Legacies at Yale (cough ...Bush... cough) etc are never questioned.

I also agree that the work of the Rooney's can't be overlooked. Too often minorities are brought into jobs and given no support from the powers that be. Then, surprise surprise, they are unable to navigate through the corporate maze. Yet, instead of acknowledging the lack of support, they use the person's failure as proof they didn't belong. The rooney's created an atmosphere of support around their coach and he delivered.

blackink said...

On point, Esq. I mean, preferential treatment in college admissions or internships or climbing the corporate ladder is by no means the exclusive domain of minorities. In fact, uh, it's pretty much the exact opposite.