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Rush Hour 2

Everything else aside, as any Philly fan can tell you, Limbaugh is wrong about Donovan McNabb.

12:00 AM, Oct 3, 2003 • By ED WALSH
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BUT THE NFL does bear some responsibility for feeding Limbaugh's fears. Last year the league bowed to pressure from Johnnie Cochran and other civil rights celebrities who argued that the NFL doesn't have enough black head coaches. A commission studied the issue and instituted a new rule requiring teams to interview at least one black candidate for every coaching vacancy.

The Detroit Lions bucked the system during this past off-season. When Steve Mariucci was let go from the San Francisco 49ers, the Lions pounced. They interviewed and hired Mariucci (a Michigan native) almost immediately. No black candidates were interviewed for the job. No other white candidates were interviewed for the job, either. And because the Lions didn't go through the charade of bringing in a black candidate, the league fined team president Matt Millen $200,000.

Scores of commentators and analysts, both black and white, have pointed out the obvious side-effect of the NFL policy: All black coaching candidates now have a pall of "tokenism" cast over their interviews. Yet the league stands by its policy, leading more astute observers than Limbaugh to believe that the NFL wants to Miracle-Gro a successful black coach, rather than simply allowing successful black coaches (like Dennis Green, Tony Dungy, and Herman Edwards) to blossom on their own.

But for quarterbacks, the charge doesn't hold water. Few coaches are willing to sacrifice their team's success in order to make a social statement. Roughly a quarter of NFL teams have black starting quarterbacks today, and most are top-notch players. Steve McNair, Michael Vick, Daunte Culpepper--it didn't take a racial experiment to find out these guys are awesome.

Rush Limbaugh was incorrect when he claimed that Donovan McNabb's reputation is built on race-based social promotion. While such affirmative action may exist in the wider world that Limbaugh typically examines, it doesn't hold as much sway in the wide world of sports--at least not on the field. He injected race into an issue where it doesn't belong. Now that he's resigned, this controversy will die down. But Limbaugh still ought to reexamine the facts and admit that he screwed up, so as to avoid giving anyone else an excuse to claim he's a racist.

Ed Walsh is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a native of the Philadelphia suburbs. He's still hoping the Eagles can go 14-2 this season.

Correction appended 10/3/03: The article originally identified Kweisi Mfume as president of the NCAA. He is, of course, president of the NAACP.