As a displaced New Englander living in Brooklyn, I get my fair share of grief for my support of Boston sports teams, particularly the Red Sox. Naturally, I have taken great pleasure in watching the New York Jets and their recent public debacles, most of them involving the curious relationship between Jets coach Rex Ryan and their flailing starting quarterback, Mark Sanchez. For those of us without much of an interest in the Jets, Ryan’s continued support of Sanchez has grown from a passing amusement to a jaw-dropping spectacle. Starting with Sanchez’s infamous “butt fumble” a few weeks back, Ryan’s refusal to replace him despite obvious evidence that he should has reached epic levels of irrationality. Final confirmation that Ryan has lost his marbles came yesterday when the New York Daily News reported that Ryan was spotted on vacation sunbathing with a tattoo of his scantily-clad wife striking a seductive pose while wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey.
I read yesterday’s article over my breakfast and had the following reactions:
1. Did I just read that? *feeling of unreality*;
2. Ryan is insane;
3. Wait a minute, I see this type of thing in my line of work all the time. Ryan has a man crush on Sanchez.
As an employment lawyer, I represent employees in legal disputes with their employers. We frequently get calls from employees seeking advice on how to deal with their boss’s crush. I have heard many stories of smitten bosses who make terrible decisions because of their crush-clouded judgment, including promoting the objects of their affection over more qualified employees (listening, Tim Tebow?). I have a strong suspicion that Ryan is heavily influenced by a special relationship with Sanchez, possibly bromantic, and vice versa. Just to confirm my hunch, I did some research on the Ryan-Sanchez relationship over the years. Ryan and Sanchez flirt like teenagers. For instance, when Ryan pulled Sanchez from the starting rotation last year and had 41-year old veteran quarterback Mark Brunell take snaps with the starting offense in practice, Sanchez responded like a jilted lover by not talking to Ryan and telling the press that he “wanted to fight” him. Ryan was amused by Sanchez’s reaction, asking the press to avoid telling Sanchez that Ryan actually intended to start him. In light of the tattoo weirdness, this episode takes on a whole new meaning. This isn’t the stuff of Ara Parseghian, Bear Bryant or Vince Lombardi. It’s not a savvy motivational tactic, as Ryan suggested; it’s playground love. Further confirmation of the crush came from Brunell, the veteran, who was quoted as saying, “They got a special relationship….they got a pretty cool bond, one that I think is pretty special… one that’s going to be around for a long time.”
Pretty cool bond? Pretty special? Around for a long time? Bromance confirmed.
So what can be done about a destructive bromance in the workplace? Very little, which is unfortunate. I don’t think there is a more destructive bias in the workplace than “paramour preference,” as the dynamic has been labelled in court decisions (albeit in situations where the relationship is consummated). Important management decisions invariably suffer as a result of a boss’s crush-impaired judgment. And for those employees who suffer career setbacks because of a boss’s unfair preference for their beloved (Tebow, for instance), the experience can be bewildering and frustrating. That’s not to say that paramour preference is the most offensive form of bias. Clearly, the bias prohibited by Title VII and other civil rights statutes is more offensive and therefore more deserving of legal prohibition. However, unlike the impact of unlawful discrimination in the workplace which only harms the particular class of persons the boss hates, the impact of paramour preference reaches everyone else in the workplace outside of the paramour relationship. Put simply, anyone who is in the way of the boss’s crush – white, black, man, woman, etc. -is going to be taken out. Once the dynamic is set in motion, it takes a relentless course and, if the affection persists, it reliably causes significant destruction at work, including lost morale, employee attrition, low productivity, diminished trust in leadership and outright workforce revolt. Aside from the typically broad scope of destruction caused by paramour relationships, paramour relationships are especially dangerous because they are particularly hard to stop once they start. Unlike discriminatory preference under Title VII, paramour preference is not actually illegal. As a result, there is no legal process for holding bosses accountable for their biased decisions while under the influence of a crush, and nobody is about to voluntarily confront the boss about it either. Lawyers have tried for years to craft legal theories based on the bias created by paramour preference with almost no success. Some companies have “anti-fraternization” policies which prohibit office romance or require disclosure when love blooms. But even those policies are easy to get around, and they don’t reach unrequited high school crushes like Ryan’s. So paramours are free to wreck havoc in the workplace with impunity, and they often do.
For those who have an interest in Ryan making smart, rational decisions, abandon all hope. Starting with the ill-fated decision to release Brunell, who clearly was a stabilizing influence on the youthful Sanchez, Ryan has consistently made the wrong decisions in handling his star quarterback, most likely because Brunell was no longer there to assist as a competent handler of Sanchez and a buffer between him and the coach. Now that the time has arrived to replace Ryan, there is no way to force him to step down, and it appears that management has no appetite for firing him. As with all paramour preference situations, everyone is going to suffer because of Ryan’s crush – players and fans alike. Everyone except for New England sports fans, that is. From this New England sports fan, I’ve enjoyed watching these two dance the night away like the junior high kids they are. They can end the evening with a slow dance, leaning on each other as the janitor pushes the broom and the DJ spins “Stairway to Heaven.” Good night, Rex and Mark. It’s been a magical ride, at least for those who don’t care for the Jets. Now it’s time to go home.