For those who followed Rush Limbaugh’s failed attempt to purchase the St. Louis Rams NFL team, you know that a major factor was the outcry of allegations of racism from members of the St. Louis Rams, dignitaries within the NFL, and activists such as Al Sharpton. I’m here neither to accuse nor defend Rush Limbaugh. I simply think that it’s important to make an observation that seems to lay slightly below the surface of this controversy.
Al Sharpton noted that one of the arguments working against Mr. Limbaugh was one of perception. This argument said that whether or not the famous talk radio host was guilty of racism, it might be best to thwart his efforts, since many shared this perception. Rev. Sharpton went on to point out that, after all, two-thirds of all NFL football players are African-Americans.
Doesn’t this simple statement suggests a double standard? During the past 45 years, civil rights issues have been greatly improved, thanks to the efforts of both black and white activists. Where African-Americans were denied such basic rights as voting and being served in business establishments, we have rectified the majority of these injustices. Most African-Americans now share equal rights, including equal pay for equal work, etc. Perhaps a more important truth is that most people now understand that, while the just concept of equal rights doesn’t imply that everyone has the same and equal abilities, it does mean that we must all be allowed to demonstrate the diversities of our varying abilities. Once these inequalities began to be corrected, beginning with unskilled labor, then the attention of the civil right movement turned to skilled labor, and higher-paid positions including management and executive positions. Today, many leaders are African-American, including those in such positions as owners of their own businesses, CEOs of large corporations, and elected and appointed officials, including, of course, our own President.
Throughout this struggle, one of the primary arguments that kept yielding successes was that African-Americans should be represented in our work force and in positions of leadership, in a ratio that closely followed that of the country at large. For example, if 12% of the population of the country was African-American, then it would follow that, given equal opportunities, approximately 12% of the CEOs should be African-American. Although it takes time to make these changes, great strides have been made in this area, and activists continue to work to make things right where inequalities still exist.
However, here comes the rub for Rev. Sharpton. As he noted, two-thirds of the players in the NFL are African-American, even though only about 12% of the U.S. population consists of African-Americans. Isn’t this a double-standard? In the corporate world, we have implemented such programs as Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action in order to ensure equality, even in the higher-paid management and executive positions. So, how can we justify 66% of the highly paid-paid members of the NFL being African-American? Is this not demonstrating discrimination against non-African-Americans? Are we to accept this distorted ratio based simply on the abilities exhibited by the players? Just because an African-American is better qualified as an NFL player, are we to accept that he gets priority over a lesser qualified non-African-American, even when such priority would further distort the percentages?
The answer, of course, is that, yes, we should indeed respect individual achievement–for NFL players, as well as for union workers, managers, CEOs, etc. Let’s stop this argument about ratios altogether, and start respecting the unequal and diverse abilities of individuals. Let’s get back to the basics definition of equal opportunity: ensuring equal opportunity to demonstrate our inequalities.