The T-Rex Escapes: Lessons Of The Washington Redskins’ Nepotism

I can’t exactly say, like Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malacolm in “Jurassic Park,” that I hate being right all the time…in part because I’m not. It sure is frustrating, however, to see an ethics crisis looming, write about it once, then twice, and still see so many people surprised when it arrives like an angry T-Rex. Thus today, I began the morning by pounding my head against the wall to read in the Washington Post sports section a column by Jason Reid with the headline, “Mike Shanahan, by hiring his son Kyle, has created an untenable situation.” Wait, what year is this? Shanahan, the coach of the Washington Redskins, that team with the name that we’re not supposed to say, hired his son Kyle as the team’s offensive coordinator many moons ago, in 2010. It was a terrible idea at the time, an example of classic nepotism that created an immediate risk of exactly what is occurring now, and perhaps the certainty of it, if the situation endured long enough.

Last season, when the Redskins swept to the NFC East Championship behind thrilling rookie QB Robert Griffin III, the ethics-challenged sports fandom here (Washington, D.C., remember) cited the success as proof that nepotism is an ethics boogie man, nothing more. This was pure consequentialism. As I concluded my post on the topic last January,

“This is rank consequentialism in its worst form. Nepotism is an unethical way to run any staff, company, team, business or government, unfair, inherently conflicted, irresponsible, dangerous and corrupting. It should be recognized as such from the beginning, and rejected, not retroactively justified if it “works.”I’m sure there were and are non-relatives of the Redskins coach who could have devised a successful offense with RG3 taking the hikes. The ethical thing to do was to find them and give one of them the job. The Redskins coach’s nepotism is just as unethical in 2013 as it was in 2012, 2011, and 2010.”

In “Jurassic Park,” the same day that chaotician Malcolm warns that the dinosaur park is so complex that a fatal loss of control is inevitable, the systems break down and he gets nearly gets eaten. The same year I wrote those words, ten months later, it’s Mike Shanahan on the menu as Jason Reid wrote these:

You don’t have to be an astute NFL observer to realize Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan could be on the verge of losing his job. The Redskins’ embarrassing collapse … stirred speculation that team owner Daniel Snyder may fire Shanahan after the season. Coaches with uncertain job security often dump coordinators in an effort to placate owners demanding change…But don’t expect Shanahan to oust the team’s offensive coordinator because no father wants to fire his son. Kyle Shanahan is a target of fans who are angry about the team’s uneven performance on offense in a disappointing 3-9 season. His game plans and play-calling have been criticized by many within the media, as the top offense in the NFL last season clearly has regressed. The bigger problem for Mike Shanahan, however, is his son’s poor relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III. The friction between the team’s top assistant on offense and its most important player — and the fact that the head coach is stuck in the middle — is proof that hiring your children can be risky. Assuming the Shanahans remain with the Redskins, Kyle must reconnect with Griffin, who isn’t going anywhere. It won’t be easy.

Boy…who could have seen this coming? What the head coach has on his hands is a full-blown, unresolvable conflict of interest. The head coach need to make a cold-eyed, objective assessment of whether the team can improve with its current offensive coordinator failing to mesh with his team’s indispensable player, and such an assessment is literally impossible. Even if he fired Kyle, would that be the result of dispassionate analysis, or an attempt to compensate for bias? Thanks to the nepotism that was rationalized years ago, and pronounced irrelevant last season, the Washington Coach head coach can’t do his job when this team is desperate for leadership. Both Shanahans have to be fired, a shining example of why nepotism is unethical, and why conflicts of interest ignored are ticking ethics bombs.

Will future fathers in leadership positions heed the vivid lesson of the Shanahans?

Of course not.

11 thoughts on “The T-Rex Escapes: Lessons Of The Washington Redskins’ Nepotism

  1. To be fair, it was possible – however unlikely – that his son was in fact qualified for the position. If it was a dead heat between two people, and one of them happened to be family, I’m not going to overly fault the hiring of family…

    This is a moot point, however, because clearly he wasn’t qualified.

    • No, his son was qualified—to work under a non-father coach. The point is that a father can never judge whether and when a son is qualified or not. It warps the relationships with everyone else on the team, it creates the appearance of favoritism, or suspicions of bias. Kyle could be the greatest offensive coordinator of all time, and on this team, he would still be a detriment.

    • I was thinking the same at first, but the fact that he started doing a bad job shows why it just doesn’t work. An applicant may be hired on the back of shining credentials, but then not work out and be fired/demoted later. The hiring decision as an isolated thing may have been justified- the son may have had strong credentials, and even an objective observer may have said he was the best candidate. You still don’t hire your kid, because what do you do if his performance suffers and he starts screwing up the job?

  2. “Will future fathers in leadership positions heed the vivid lesson of the Shanahans?
    Of course not.”

    In my opinion, it doesn’t help that so many youth sports leagues allow parents and children on the same teams. I could be mistaken, but I believe that continues in the schools’ leagues.

    [gone into hiding, wearing a cloaking device]

  3. A father in a leadership position who hires his son (such as in this case) does a huge disservice to his son ESPECIALLY if his son is qualified for the job. There will always be speculation that the son got the job because his own father hired him. I can see this seriously underminding and affecting a young man’s confidence and ability to become “his own man”. Why would a father want to do this to his son in the first place?

      • Man the gingerbread battlestations! Scramble the reindeer! Deploy elf batallions to perimiter snowball stockpiles! Engage “Christmas-Shoes” and “Santa Baby”-based personnell deterrent audio modules!

      • The white on red, I have a different opinion of than you do, but I can tolerate and wouldn’t have said anything given that it’s your blog, after all. The black on dark red, or light red on dark red – both of which show up in the quote blocks on this post – are just plain unreadable.

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