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In Wilbon's World

Chat House: The Addition

Each week I'll post a few questions I didn't get to during The Chat House and respond to them in depth. Today's topics: racism and the Rooney Rule, Drew Brees' op-ed column, Kurt Warner and the Gilbert Arenas saga.

Racism: I'm still a believer that while the overt racism has been defeated there are still abiding subtle and not so subtle versions influencing American society. I do think we've done better than most if not all other countries in dealing with this, but I don't think that's reason enough to pat ourselves on the back and say we're done. I bring this up because, the Arenas controversy has brought out a number of epithets that suggest a group guilt. Arenas is far from being "thug" but he's being portrayed that way. Stupid? Yes, absolutely. Furthermore, I've noticed, and admit this might be my bias, that African American writers get called racist more than European American writers when they criticize local teams. A columnist for another paper is currently being pilloried by a few commenters over what to me is legit criticism he had of the Ravens. He was largely laudatory but his comments were derided. How much of this do you experience? Does it ever just cause you to overswing on the golf course?

MW: Great comment/question. Yes, it does. I wake up angry as hell a whole lot of days, and I, like you, realize that overt bigotry diminishes by the day and is tolerated less by the day. Still, I'm not going to ignore it when I see it, especially when people who aren't very smart act as if the person of color, no matter how much smarter he or she may be, is the dummy.

Fortunately, I haven't seen much directed at Gilbert Arenas. And while I haven't been in D.C. since the episode began, I was in Arizona, where he went to school for two years. And people there seem to really, really like Gilbert. There's a real fondness there for him and people are surprised and disappointed, but I didn't hear too many of the code words people resort to when they're disappointed in black athletes.

Again, I think people are more sophisticated about their expressions than even ten years ago. And I think people have developed greater sensitivities on most fronts because they aren't bigots and even if they are don't want to be perceived as such. But I also read the comments at the end of on-line pieces and there's way too much bigotry still out there. It's not hard to find mean, nasty people who hate folks who look different than they do. What I've done increasingly, if for no other reason than to keep my own blood pressure intact, is to focus on the increase in civil discussion, especially discussions that pertain to sports.


As long as we're on the topic of race, I'm going to use this specific space to take myself to task for being too critical yesterday in the specific instance of the application of the NFL's Rooney Rule as it pertains to the Seattle Seahawks. It appeared to many of us, when the Seahawks first hired Pete Carroll as their new head coach, as if another team had circumvented the Rooney Rule. There were reports that Leslie Frazier, the former Chicago Bears player who has been an assistant coach (now with the Vikings) had been asked to interview pretty much after the fact ... after the Seahawks had settled on getting Carroll to leave Southern Cal.

In this space and on PTI I ripped the NFL and the Fritz Pollard Alliance for not taking the Seahawks to task. Well, turns out the club needed to be applauded, not taken to task. Not only did they not circumvent the rule, they approached Tony Dungy about running the club as the chief football executive before even approaching Carroll to coach. Now, running a team might not fall under the Rooney Rule, but it's far more important. Bringing in Dungy would speak much more to the issue of inclusion in football than hiring a coach. So, whether that counts as complying or not, since I was quick to criticize the Seahawks let me be quick to praise them and apologize for my rant.

Having said that, it doesn't mean every club is as forward thinking as Seattle. The rule is an asset to the NFL because it seeks to make certain teams settle on the best and brightest hires by casting a wider net than club executives traditionally did. Major League Baseball actually did this before the NFL, leading men like Jerry Reinsdorf, who has been particularly forward-thinking in various areas of hiring, to make Kenny Williams his GM with the Chicago White Sox.

What happens, almost without fail, is that when people are forced to look at a bigger pool of candidates they find that some men they might not have interviewed without the rule making it mandatory aren't as different as once would have been thought. Put people in the same room for a conversation and often the decision makers say, "Wow, who the hell knew this guy was so sharp?" Relationships are formed. Recommendations are made. Even if Reinsdorf hadn't hired Ken Williams, I'd like to think Reinsdorf would have said to one of his owner buddies, "Hey, if you're looking for a new GM you gotta talk to this guy Kenny Williams!" That's why the Rooney Rule is necessary, because even if the minority candidate isn't hired for that gig, he is suddenly in the chatter for the next gig.

Is that the way the rule is intended to work? Not necessarily. But it's so much better than what happened with minority hiring before the rule existed. Being effective in a secondary way, as I'm reminded by some black assistant coaches, is preferable to being out of the loop, which was the case previously. Leslie Frazier's name is on the lips of league executives in a way it wasn't last month, or would have been 20 years ago when owners/GMs couldn't be convinced to interview Tony Dungy for a head coaching job.

The notion is that since there appears to be circumvention of the Rooney Rule then the league is better off not having the rule. That's moronic.

If there is circumvention -- and John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance says there hasn't been so far this year -- the NFL needs to punish the people who circumvent. The NFL is a play-by-the-rules organization. Players who wear their socks improperly get fined. If that's important enough for the NFL to punish, certainly ignoring a league rule designed to insure fair hiring is important enough to punish. The league owes that to its teams, its coaches, its players and its fans. And if it calls for Commissioner Roger Goodell to carry a big stick ... and perhaps swing it, then so be it. It's a rule even the most powerful executives should be afraid to circumvent.


Montgomery County, Md.: Did you read Drew Brees' column in [Sunday's] paper? What's your take on this case and what impact it would have on competition in the NFL? Would it destroy free agency as we know it and would the end of free agency result in lower ticket prices?

MW: I don't know if it would end free agency as we know it, but I do know I agree 100 percent with Drew Brees and share his take on not only the small company's battle with the NFL but on the general notion that it's absurd that the courts should allow the NFL to act as a single entity in all matters. I also admire Brees for taking a stand and doing it so convincingly. Too many players would be told by their coaches that such an undertaking would be "a distraction." Hopefully, other players will make their feelings known, and hopefully others will be as familiar with the issue and as passionate as Brees, no matter their opinions.

Fairfax, Va.: AT 55, I'm a whole generation of "old guy" beyond Kurt Warner, but damn, isn't it great to see an "old guy" put on a performance like that? Talk about your big game guy. Hope he finds himself in the Hall of Fame -- Warner desrves it.

MW: It is great to see. You would think that Brett Favre is the only old guy out there who can sling it. But Warner is 38. He's won the same number of Super Bowls as Favre (1), been in one more (three to Favre's 2), and I think when the next weekend of playoff games is done that Warner is more likely to be alive for another Super Bowl than Favre.

Anyway, Warner is lavish with his praise of his receivers, in this case Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet ... But they are equally enamored of him. Fitzgerald told me last week that if Warner is upright the Cardinals believe they can beat anybody. Four playoff victories in the last five postseason games probably prove that. The Cardinals were two minutes in the Super Bowl from that being a 5-0 record with Warner as their QB.

He was very candid the other day after that incredible game against the Packers, saying that he plays now for the playoffs. Why wouldn't he at this point of his career? It seemed his career was dead when he was with the Giants, sitting on the bench. Warner didn't think he had a fair shot at beating out first-round draft pick Matt Leinart for the job in Arizona. But Ken Whisenhunt promised it would be a fair competition, and it was. I've covered pro football for many years and rarely have I met a player easier to root for than Warner.

Houston, Texas: Watching the saga with Gilbert unfold, I wonder from your perspective whether him not having an agent hurt him at least from the perspective of spin and how to handle situation after it was reported.

I know that goes against every fiber of Gilbert's being - maybe my question is more whether agents and their agencies in general do play a role in helping a player when they get into situations like Gilbert has gotten himself into?

MW: I know agents who have dramatically helped athlete clients in difficult situations, whether we're talking legal trouble or just difficult choices that young men would have trouble negotiating whether or not they were athletes. There are so many different kinds of agents out there. Some simply negotiate contracts. Some deal mostly with contracts and endorsement deals. Some are such advisers to their clients that they remain in that capacity long after the client has retired as a player.

Gilbert, I always thought, needs an agent. He needs a friend with a toughness he respects and a savvy he doesn't yet have. Some athletes might not need that mentoring, but I think Gilbert does. Do we know he would have listened? No. And it depends on who the agent was and his personality and persuasiveness, perhaps even charisma. Choosing an agent is a difficult thing. In the case of young athletes, you hope they have an agent (and staff) who can help keep guys out of trouble in the first place. I know guys who are worth their weight in gold; whatever percentage they're getting isn't enough. And I know some who I think are primarily cashing in. Gil needed, and perhaps still needs, the former.


Michael Wilbon

 |  January 13, 2010; 11:30 AM ET  |  Category:  NFL , The Chat House , Wizards Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Out with a whimper | Next: Not wavering on Arenas


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I commend you for taking yourself to task on the Seahawks situation, but maybe next time you'll do a little digging before coming out on a national TV network flogging an organization?

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | January 14, 2010 8:43 AM
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