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Reversing Cochran's complaint

By Bruce Walker
web posted October 14, 2002

Just when it seems as if power-hungry, litigious and parochial leftists cannot be more inane, a Johnnie Cochran shows there are no real limits to the absurdity of the left. His complaint? There are not enough black coaches in the National Football League: the percentage of black coaches is equal to about seven percent of all the head coaches in the National Football League, but two thirds of the players in the National Football League are black.

Attorney Johnnie Cochran address a news conference in Baltimore on Sept. 30 to announce the release of a report of a computerized analysis of NFL team records which he said show that black coaches are the last hired and first fired, despite outperforming their white counterparts
Attorney Johnnie Cochran address a news conference in Baltimore on Sept. 30 to announce the release of a report of a computerized analysis of NFL team records which he said show that black coaches are the last hired and first fired, despite outperforming their white counterparts

At the outset Cochran assumes - because it is convenient for him to assume - that the qualities necessary to coaching football are identical to the necessary to play football. Remove race as a factor, and his assumption falls apart: during the period before blacks were allowed to compete with whites in professional football, good coaches had often been mediocre players or may not have played professional football at all.

Good coaches need the same talent and knowledge that managers, psychologists, physicists and medical doctors possess. Good football players need speed, strength and agility. Good coaches may have played little football, and horrible coaches may have played great football. The expression "You just can't coach that" is indicative of the inborn athletic ability which has very little to do with maximizing the collective talents of a team and of an organization (which is what good coaches do).

The silliest part of Cochran's argument is that a difference between the percentage of professional football players and the percentage of professional football coaches indicates any latent bias. The percentage of blacks coaching professional football is roughly seven percent of the coaching population and the percentage of blacks in the American population is about twelve percent of the entire population.

Considering that black men - for whatever reasons one wishes to posit - still lag behind the rest of the nation in those talents and knowledge that separate a bad coach from a good coach (i.e. managerial expertise, biomedical background, knowledge of physics and group psychology) the logical expectation is that the number of black coaches would be a little less that the percentage of black men in the American population as a whole, which is exactly the condition.

Cochran's complaint has within a massive contradiction: although blacks constitute twelve percent of the population, blacks constitute almost sixty percent of the football players in the National Football League. If anything, that makes the statistical argument that the National Football League discriminates against non-black football players.

Closer inspection of the statistics makes that case even more compellingly. Except for the quarterback position - a position in which black players exceed the percentage of the black population, but not by overwhelming margins - the highly paid and glamourous positions in the National Football League are more heavily biased toward black players. Non-black players are the offensive linemen, the punters, the place kickers - those valuable, but unappreciated and relatively poorly paid positions on a professional football team.

The reason that black players dominate the skill positions in the National Football League is, of course, is not because of any genuine bias against non-black football players. Professional sports is an example of almost perfect meritocracy. But the result is certainly "unfair" to non-black players, if the reasoning of Cochran is used. Moreover, those who suffer from this "unfairness" are not just white players, but largely other people of color.

How many Asian, Middle Eastern or Latin American players are in the National Football League? Very few, because black players had taken much more than the twelve percent quota to which Cochran's reasoning entitles them. Moreover, these other minorities are squeezed out by an "old boy" of black players, whose sons and grandsons are not competing against other people of color who have not been represented in professional football.

Again, of course, there is no real unfairness at all. Black players compete against other black players, and the best players get the starting jobs and the choicest positions. But the "unfair" result could easily be changed to help other people of color rise in the National Football League.

How? Using the same technique that Cochran and his ilk so love: change the rules. As some examples, the National Football League could amend its rules so that a field goal was worth five points and the goal posts were made five yards wider and make punts unreturned from the end zone worth two points.

Suddenly those minorities from Mexican, Iranian, Korean and Egyptian backgrounds would become very valuable football players, and all professional football players whose worth has been measured in foot speed and agility would be worth comparatively less. The value of a great place kicker would skyrocket, and the average salaries of a wide receiver or running back would drop.

The rules of American football have changed quite a bit since the beginning of the college game in 1869 or the professional game in 1919. These changes in the rules have "opened up" the game, which is precisely why so many black players have become superstars.

Were these changes intended to help black players? Absolutely not! Black players were not even allowed to play in professional football until the late 1950s, but these changes were made solely for the purpose of making the game itself more attractive and more competitive.

If football rules were guided by social bigotry, rather than market competition, was the goal, then the National Football League would have adopted a rule than only those players who have graduated and who have scored above a certain level on the ACT test can play professional football? That would reduce - and unfairly reduce - the pool of black football players.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people like Johnnie Cochran around, who are willing to take any variation from the statistical norm, even when the underlying fact - great over-representation of blacks in the National Football League should be the obvious "fairness" issue - and turn that into "us" against "them." Professional sports was one of the first and one of the best opportunities for those black men who had been the victims of real bigotry to rise above that through talent and grit. How sad that the virtue of real competition is lost on men like Cochran.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a contributor to Citizens View, The Common Conservative, Conservative Truth and Port of Call.

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