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Steelers NFL Notebook: Lions owner rips Steelers

Ford also pans NFL's decision to fine Millen in minority-hiring flap

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

From wire dispatches

Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford -- angry over Matt Millen's $200,000 fine and the shadow it casts on his team -- accused NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue of making the Lions a scapegoat and suggested the team has a better record in diversity hiring than the NFL in general and the Steelers in particular.

Millen was fined Friday for failing to comply with diversity guidelines requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any head-coaching vacancy.

"I think it's a shame," Ford said yesterday in Allen Park, Mich., where the Lions are holding training camp. "I think it's totally unwarranted. I think he's made a scapegoat out of the Detroit Lions.

"I asked him when I talked to him on the phone last week, 'Why are you waiting six months when this has been sort of a dead issue? You nail us the day before camp opens when people's attention is on the new coach, the new team.' "This is deliberately singling out the Lions, putting a focus on us for violating a policy that -- as we talk right now -- has not been formalized or approved by the membership."

The NFL diversity policy was put in place Dec. 20, when league owners and top executives endorsed the guidelines set forth by the diversity committee, headed by Steelers owner Dan Rooney, to promote awareness of minority candidates for top jobs.

Millen fired former coach Marty Mornhinweg Jan. 27 and hired Steve Mariucci eight days later. In between, he contacted five black current or former NFL coaches, but -- because it was widely believed that Mariucci was the top candidate for the job -- none would agree to an interview.

The Lions' position, as stated by vice chairman William Clay Ford Jr. and Millen in a March 4 session with Tagliabue and Rooney's diversity committee, was that the Lions have a long-standing record of minority hiring and had made an honest effort to comply with the initiative.

"If you look at the Lions' organization vis-a-vis the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and it was Dan Rooney's committee that made the recommendation to Paul -- and look at the personnel in the league office. ... I mean, talk about pointing fingers," Ford said.

"I think we've got an excellent record. We've got a record not because we're trying to satisfy anything [but] because we pick good people. And the Steelers and the league office have a terrible record. They're great ones to be picking us out."

Under Millen, the Lions have 12 black employees in positions of authority, including senior vice president Martin Mayhew, offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis, director of pro personnel Sheldon White and head athletic trainer Al Bellamy.

The exact number of black executives in the NFL administration could not be immediately determined, according to Greg Aiello, league vice president of public relations, but at least six have the rank of director.

The Steelers have a total of nine black employees on their coaching, personnel or training staff staffs.

Bryant impresses Parcells

Surgery in the morning, practice in the afternoon.

Second-year receiver Antonio Bryant, a former Pitt star, is off to a good start proving to Coach Bill Parcells that he's tough enough to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

Bryant was injured Saturday morning in the first workout of Camp Parcells in San Antonio and returned to Dallas after the second session that afternoon. Sunday morning, he had an operation to remove bone spurs from his left pinky finger.

The chips came out and the wound was closed with six stitches, with a splint covering the finger. Bryant then flew back to San Antonio, suited up and rejoined his teammates on the field.

Parcells was so impressed by Bryant's speedy return that he praised him in front of the entire team.

"I said, 'Hey, this is a guy that gets operated on at 8 o'clock in the morning and at 2:50 he's playing football like nothing ever happened,'" Parcells said yesterday. "I told the team it wasn't open-heart surgery, but it was something. It was a surgical procedure, an invasive procedure. That's pretty good."

Stringer's wife files suit

As expected, the widow of former Minnesota Vikings lineman Korey Stringer filed a lawsuit against the NFL yesterday in U.S. District Court in Columbus, Ohio, claiming the league fosters a "deadly culture" of abusive practices that led to her husband's death from complications of heatstroke at the team's training camp Aug. 1, 2001.

Kelci Stringer is seeking unspecified damages against the NFL, equipment manufacturer Riddell Sports Group of Chicago and John Lombardo, a league medical consultant who also runs the NFL's drug program. The suit claims the league's coaches and trainers subject players to possible fatal conditions by forcing them to practice and play in high heat and humidity.

Stringer, a 335-pound lineman who played college football at Ohio State, collapsed at a Vikings practice July 31 in Mankato, Minn., on a day when the heat index reportedly was in the 100-degree range. He was initially treated for heat exhaustion at the field, then taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where his body temperature was measured at 108.8. He died 15 hours later.

Jaguars' Smith much better

Jacksonville defensive lineman Larry Smith was released from the hospital yesterday, a day after collapsing twice on the field during the Jaguars' training camp. Smith is expected to return to the team today, although no decision was made as to whether he would practice.

Quick hits

St. Louis Rams defensive back Jason Sehorn had surgery yesterday on his broken left foot, an injury expected to sideline him 10 weeks. With Sehorn out, former Penn State star Kim Herring, an underachiever as the starting free safety the past two seasons, moves back into the starting spot. ... Defensive lineman Dan Wilkinson, scheduled to make a team-high $3.5 million this season, was on the sideline for the Washington Redskins' first practice of training camp yesterday after the team essentially told him not to bother showing up until he agrees to take a pay cut. ... Willis McGahee's agent insists the injured first-round draft pick is ready to begin practicing as soon as he signs a contract with the Buffalo Bills. Bills President Tom Donahoe, however, disagreed, saying that the agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is attempting to improve his position in contract talks, Donahoe added that the agent should "leave the medical opinions to the medical people." The timetable for McGahee's return has been in question since the former University of Miami star tore three ligaments in his left knee during the Hurricanes' loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in January. ... Former NFL quarterback and game official Adrian Burk died Monday in Henderson, Texas.

See below: Adrian Burk, one of five quarterbacks to throw seven touchdown passes in a game who also officiated in two of the National football League's most memorable postseason games, died yesterday at a hospital in Henderson, Texas. He was 75. Mr. Burk played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1951 to 1956. He tied the record for most touchdown passes in a game when he threw seven at Washington on Oct. 17, 1954. He also was part of the officiating crews for both the Immaculate Reception game between the Steelers and Oakland in 1972 and the longest playoff game ever between Kansas City and Miami on Christmas Day in 1971.


Post-Gazette sports writer Ed Bouchette contributed to this report.

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