Super Bowl 43: What Black Coach?

January 31, 2009


A day before the big game, the nation’s biggest annual event, and this year there are very few words about the prospect of an African-American coach winning. This time it seems Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin is just another coach on the verge of leading his team to victory on the world’s largest sports stage. I suppose that’s progress. Perhaps.

We are only two years removed from Tony Dungy’s historic victory as coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Dungy won the only Super Bowl where there was a certainty the winning coach would be black. Dungy and Bears coach Lovie Smith were the lead story that Super Bowl. It seemed just about every interview and commentary leading up to that game contained some reference to the history that was about to be made. The first always gets the attention. It should. Dungy one of sport’s all-time gentlemen, and dignified leaders proved you don’t have to curse and glower to motivate and lead. He deserved every accolade that he got. And by god he is black!

But what about the next guy – Mike Tomlin – in fact an apple off of the Dungy coaching tree? How should we recognize him? And what should we say if he leads the Steelers to another championship? Is it better to ignore Tomlin’s color, when in fact African-American coaches still struggle to get respect, let alone jobs at all levels of football? Right now it seems those are questions many people don’t want to talk about. But I say let’s talk and keep talking, lest we forget how long it took men like Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy to get to the big game. The fact is it took way too long. And in just two years some of us are acting like it doesn’t mean anything that another African-American is so quickly knocking on the door of football history – again. On-going and provable accomplishment and progress is a story we shouldn’t be quiet about.

As evidenced by the swearing in of Barack Obama as the country’s 44th president, we are indeed living in an historic time. But it doesn’t mean that full racial parity has been achieved and racial injustice has been adjudicated. And it doesn’t mean we should silently watch just because one hurdle, even a huge one, has finally been cleared. That next hurdle is important too.

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