September 11, 2010
What the NY Jets Can Do That the FDNY CannotBy Jack Cashill
The simple answer is this: field its best team. The reasons why the New York Fire Department cannot do so are complex, but when understood, indefensible -- especially after September 11.
Two good windows on this paradox are the HBO show "Hard Knocks," this year featuring the Jets, and "102 minutes," a fair-minded book by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn on the fight to survive within the Twin Towers.
"Hard Knocks" follows a given football team through its pre-season training. The fringe players provide the real drama of the show as they struggle against high odds to make the team. Unlike most other professions, especially firefighting, the coaches are free to choose whomever they like for whatever reasons they like.
They are certainly under no imperative to hire women. None dare try out. As to handicaps, these merely get a player sent home in a hurry. The coaches do not attempt to field teams that "look like New York." I doubt if they even keep statistics on race, let alone gender or sexual orientation.
The selection process has a massively disparate impact against certain minority groups -- Hispanics and Asian-Americans, most notably -- and even against African-Americans in the quarterbacking and kicking positions. Jets QB Mark Sanchez is a "minority" in the way that Ricardo Montalban was.
On the question of age discrimination, the coaches are open advocates of the same. They will tell a player to his face that he is too old, and "old" in the NFL is 35. "Ancient" is 40 and/or Brett Favre. As to sensitivity training, I would pay to watch head coach Rex Ryan go through such a course. White coaches like Ryan blister black players, and black coaches blister white players, and yes, they do use bad words, lots of them.
At the end of the day, the coaches assess a player on how well he performs on relevant tests, physical and mental; what kind of character he has; and what kind of attitude he shows, and they make their decisions accordingly. Getting cut is painful, but the players man up in ways that must leave corporate HR execs weeping in envy.
New Yorkers would not tolerate a Jets management whose coaches were any less discriminating. Fans demand a team capable of winning and are almost completely indifferent to its racial or gender balance. For whatever reason, federal regulators leave the Jets alone.
Although no one ever died because of an errant forward pass, lives are at risk every time firefighters answer a call. And yet, if New Yorkers insist the Jets field their best players, they seemingly couldn't care less about the FDNY.
As Flynn and Dwyer reveal in "102 Minutes," the only firefighters who provided real value on September 11 were those able to climb forty, sixty, maybe eighty flights of stairs wearing thirty to forty pounds of gear and carrying firefighting tools nearly as heavy. This required the strength and stamina of a Navy Seal or an NFL safety. Although no one can question the valor of the firemen who entered the buildings, few had the requisite conditioning to do much good. Serious testing had been taboo for a generation.
In the aftermath of the buildings' collapse, authorities have rightly attempted to identify design and engineering flaws and correct them. The media have held the responsible parties accountable. It is not every day that a jet airliner flies into a building, but a skyscraper should be able to survive the day that it does.
During this same period, authorities have done nothing to identify and correct the weakness of the firefighters themselves. Perversely, they have labored to make sure that firefighters will be less capable of dealing with a comparable emergency in the future, and the media have egged them on.
In every single American city today, "diversity" trumps safety. Scarcely a day goes by without the media trumpeting lawsuits that waste money and emasculate fire departments. In Chicago, one reads that because of unwelcome results, the city's firefighter applicant test is now pass/fail. In Kansas City, two women sue the fire department, demanding, among other things, that they be recognized as having the same firefighting ability as men.
In Oakland, a headline reads "a New Century Brings Progress and Hope." In this case, "progress" means that 13% of Oakland's firefighters are women and 56% are "people of color." Whether they can fight fires is irrelevant. In Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Miami, through a combination of litigation and intimidation, women represent more than 10 percent of the city's firefighters. Fire chiefs who protested are no longer fire chiefs.
To its credit, the FDNY resists, but the federal regulators, the courts, and the media conspire against the Department. As reported in the New York Post earlier this year, a group of women threatened to sue the FDNY, warning the judge "that if the new requirements place a greater emphasis on strength, more women will be excluded from joining the department."
Some years back, a judge had ordered the test changed "to be less physical." That apparently did not produce an equal enough outcome for the litigants, who had little or no personal exposure to 9-11. Of the 343 firefighters who died in New York City on September 11, 2001, 343 were men.
Today, firefighting is an extremely attractive profession. There are routinely fifty applicants or more for each open position. Fire Departments could recruit candidates as strong and fit -- smarter, too, if not quite as fast -- as the Jets do. Departments could demand, just like the Jets, that these firemen show up for work every day in peak fitness and dismiss them if they do not.
This is not about to happen. Careerism will continue to make cowards out of those who are supposed to lead. As the Post also reported, "The city and the union declined to comment" on the threatened suit.
The Post did identify, however, one fireman brave enough to say the obvious. "It's a physical job. It requires physical strength," said Deputy Chief Paul Mannix. "People ask why there aren't more women in the Fire Department. Why aren't there more women in the NFL or Major League Baseball?"
Will someone in authority please answer this question?