I was going to leave the first black coach thing alone because no one outside of the media really cares. Is it a great accomplishment? Undoubtedly. And it couldn't have happened to better men; two of the classiest, most likable guys in the league, regardless of race. But, to the average NFL viewer, race just simply isn't an issue anymore. It hasn't been for sometime. I highly doubt anybody tuning into the Super Bowl will say, "Look Ma, two Negros are coaching the big game!" So, like I said, I really wasn't going to get sucked into the 'first black coach' hype but after seeing Steven A. Smith on CNN, I feel compelled to write this down so I can stop yelling at my TV.
The most frequent complaint you hear about the lack of black coaches is the ratio complaint; that 75% of the players are black but less than a fifth of it's head coaches are black. In fact, it's generally the only complaint you hear.
So what? Blacks were once excluded from the NFL and they no longer are. Hey, our bad, but end of story. Why don't we talk about people who have been completely excluded from the NFL and now have to challenge the established norms, like women broadcasters or coaches? Or midget cheerleaders. Real exclusion.
If modern sports leagues used this race ratio as their guideline for coaches, it would certainly increase the number of black coaches in the NFL and NBA but would make most other leagues almost exclusively white. Hockey? Nope. Blacks need not apply. Golf executives? No blacks allowed, wouldn't want to, you know, upset the delicate ratio in place. Tennis? Swimming? No and no. But aren't we always hearing that those leagues should be more diverse? Yes we are. So the real issue here isn't a ratio problem, it's that some people want more black coaches. Period. They never say how many black coaches will placate their desire to balance the league, but, you know, just more.
Steven A. Smith was on Paula "Overbite" Zahn last night, along with Karen Hunter, a black, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the NY Daily News and an author of a LL Cool J book, and some token conservative white chick who looked like one of the gals from SNL. Before the panel debated, CNN showed a monologue clip, replete with soft cuts and inspirational music. The clip ended with, "Some hope Sunday's game will have a lasting impact, that the image of two black men leading teams in America's biggest game will send an inspiring message to anyone who has a dream of playing or coaching in the NFL." Finally, black kids will actually dream of playing the NFL! (The idea that kids need players of the same-race to look up to is also ridiculous. When I was a kid I pretended to be Art Monk or Darell Green or a coked up Dexter Manly, black or white, I pretended to be any Redskin player. Are we to believe that none of the 6 black kids in Indianapolis pretend to be Peyton Manning or Dallas Clark?) After this sanguine video intro the panel, ironically bereft of any white male, began to debate. Some snippets from the show (my comments in bold) below;
ZAHN: What took so long for blacks to become head coaches on NFL teams?
SMITH: Well, I think, if you're going to make an argument for racism, this would be the perfect time.
I mean, it wasn't until the late '80s that the first African- American coach was in the NFL in Art Shell. The reality is, you got that good-old-boy network that didn't have -- that didn't involve inclusion.
This I completely agree with Steve on. The NFL (like the rest of the country) was a good ol' boy network and it's a shame that it took until 1988 for blacks to be welcomed as coaches. Basically, though people had likely shed their prejudicial inclinations, the people with the most experience were white candidates, by virtue of them being the only coaches for over 50 years, thusly whites continued to be hired. This network extended (and still somewhat exists today) into the college ranks and bred inclusiveness. Finally, that long maintained network is being shed and more minorities are gaining experience as college coaches and as NFL assistants, the stepping stones to a head coaching job.
HUNTER: This is about affirmative action.
And, as a person who has benefited from affirmative action, I can tell you, it's absolutely necessary. People will not hire people who don't look like them, who they're not comfortable with, unless they're forced to.
Wow, Karen Hunter, Pulitzer prize winner and speaker for all mankind. So Karen describes all interracial work relationships as being borne out of force. Interesting viewpoint.
ZAHN: Let me move on to another question. Do you think blacks have been held to a different standard?
HUNTER: Absolutely. I have to be twice as good at what I do.
Stop the freaking race train. Aside from the fact that her own skill as compared to others is a completely arbitrary, unquantifiable amount, it doesn't even make sense. So she's twice as good as the writers at the Daily News, but it equals out because she's black? A new theorem perhaps; black + skill(2) = white + skill.
ZAHN: ... but specifically when it comes to the NFL?
HUNTER: Both of these coaches, that they are both in the Super Bowl right now says a lot about...
SCHLUSSEL (this is that weird looking white girl): If you were twice as good, you wouldn't need affirmative action.
SCHLUSSEL: Yes. You don't need it.
SMITH: There is not a black person in America that would tell you differently than what she just said.
Of course we're held to a different standard. We're always held to a different standard. That's why, even more significant than Tony Dungy -- or just as significant as Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith going to the Super Bowl, is the fact that Tomlin was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers, because his resume is not impeccable. Yet, at the age of 34, he was given an opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL.
That's something that simply never, ever happened in this sport's history.
SCHLUSSEL: Why should he get that opportunity just because of color?
SMITH: Because white folks get that opportunity all the time.
Did Smith just argue against himself? First he's agreeing that black + skill(2) = white + skill, and then he says that Tomlin just got thrown a job based on race over resume? So, normally blacks are at a different, higher standard but (for once) not in Tomlin's case and that proves the league is getting friendlier to blacks? And I do think Kiffin got the job over better black candidates, Earnest Byner for one, but that's Oakland's choice, just as Pittsburgh gave Tomlin a job over the better qualified Russ Grimm (who really exemplifies just how difficult it is to land a head coaching job in the NFL, and throws some salt on the "white folks get that opportunity all the time" argument). But history will tell and one day both men could be Hall of Famers. History is neat like that.
SMITH: And, if you're talking about fairness, how about being fair and making sure that black people are afforded the same opportunity as white people?
SCHLUSSEL: OK. Fine. Do you think that there should be -- do you think there should be Samoan and Latino coaches, because there are Samoan and Latino players? And there hasn't been one of those coaches yet.
SNL Looking White girl 1, Yells At You Smith 0
SCHLUSSEL: Well, then maybe we should have affirmative action for white players on the field. Why does there need to be a correlation between the 75 percent on the field?
HUNTER: It is about opportunity. The fact that Smith is the lowest paid coach in the NFL.
Here, Steve does this angry, huffing laugh, insinuating that the big bad white owners are intentionally paying Lovie a low salary due to race. A viewpoint which I think speaks volumes of Smith's racial objectivity. I actually read that black coaches get paid 3/5ths of a white coach. Some compromise the NFL made a while ago.
SMITH: I'll give you a perfect example, Lane Kiffin, new coach of the Oakland Raiders. He was at USC. You got a guy like Norm Chow who led USC to two national championships as an offensive coordinator, plus he took them to a third. He did a fantastic job at Tennessee...(Kiffin)is 31 years old with no experience whatsoever coaching on the NFL level, but he was given a head coaching job. That simply does not happen for black people in America.
SCHLUSSEL: There are 32 jobs, 32. There are a lot of good coaches of all races that want to be coaches.
SMITH (now yelling, but it's hard to tell if he's mad or just yelling like always): Let me address my issue. The man is 31 years old with no coaching experience, any NFL and got a head coaching job for the Oakland Raiders. Does that happen for a black man in the United States of America?
Smith has a point in that it's extremely rare for a team to hire a coach with no prior NFL coaching experience. Kiffin could actually be the first. But let's see, Smith's implication is that Kiffin got the job over more qualified blacks merely because he was white and he asks; does that happen for a black man in the United States? Let me see, getting a job over better qualified applicants based on race alone. Let me think. So a black guy would have to get a gig over a white guy with better creds? It sounds familiar, but, no, Steve, you are right, it's never happened. Ever.
Then the white girl doesn't answer and Steve keeps saying, "are you going to answer?" and right before the show ends Hunter says with a smug, conspiratorial tone, "No Steve, she's not going to answer."
Like she's saying, "just more institutional racism by the white people. She doesn't think she needs to answer your black ass, Steve."
The thing is it's very, very difficult to win a Super Bowl. There have only been 22 coaches who've done it; only 22. But the media acts like a bunch of white guys are sitting at the country club, sipping Cognac, with Lombardi trophies all over the place and a sign that says no blacks allowed. Only 42 different coaches in NFL history have ever coached in the Super Bowl. Which means most NFL coaches, white or black, have never made it. This Sunday, Lovie and Dungy will make it so 4.3% of Super Bowls have been coached by blacks.
This in addition to the fact that just over half of the jobs in the NFL are even in play. Contrary to the quickly changing demographics of the players, coaches have a much slower turnaround because current coaches generally have the best chance of getting head coach openings. Currently there are 13 white coaches (give or take a few) who most likely aren't going to be leaving the league as anything other than a head coaches. They're established head coaches and they happen to be white. That leaves, not counting the current black coaches, 13 possible future openings for black coaches. Only 13. It's a slow process but it's happening. Does anyone think if Ray Rhodes had won with Philly or Green Bay that he wouldn't still be a coach? Or Dennie Green (Gary Anderson had to miss a FG for the big bad white owners, his first miss all year, to keep this black coach out the Super Bowl)? Or Terry Robiski? The truth is, winning is what it takes to stay in the league and black coaches are slowly getting the chance to prove they can win, and as they do (over decades) they will replace the current white staples of NFL coaching and become permanent fixtures, like Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy have already (and Herm is probably close to solidified as a head coach until retirement, however, he is on his 2nd strike in a fierce division).
I can't help but feel that if Art Shell had only beat the Bills in 1990, we could be simply enjoying the game without this racial sideshow. Like Doug Williams, who 18 years after his "watershed" moment is still the only black QB to win a Super Bowl, quelled cries of discrimination at his position, Shell could have ended this 17 years ago, but, of course, that damn Marv Levy had to go and keep the black man down.
Smith also picked the Colts, 37 over the Bears 20. The Colts have only scored over 36 twice in 19 weeks, but in the Super Bowl it's just going to click. Just like that. Don't mind the Bears D, nope, don't mind them at all.