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The Forgotten Dream

He had a dream, a dream that consumed his life and made him the national hero that he is today. Even years after his death, annual celebrations across the nation honor not only the realization of his dream but his incredible vision and ever lasting legacy as well. As one of the first black professional baseball players, Jackie Robinson withstood a constant barrage of racism, from fans and players alike, in order to pave the path for other minorities. Consequently, each year, on the anniversary of the integration of baseball, millions pay tribute to Jackie Robinsons unprecedented perception and courage.

In actuality Robinson had two dreams. Distracted by progress and consumed by celebration, no one across the 30 ballparks of the Major League bothered to ask what Jackie Robinsons other dream was. If Robinsons second dream was as commonly known as his first, there would not be much to celebrate about. Even though the NFL and Major League Baseball (MLB) are among the most integrated workplaces on the field, Jackie Robinsons second dream, "to have the front offices, and people who run and manage our teams, be open to people of color" has yet to be realized (Tygiel, 1997, p. 21).

The color barriers may be broken on the playing field, but on the sidelines the hurdles are still an ever-present obstacle for black head-coaching candidates. Only three of the 30 head-coaching positions in the NFL are held by men of color. And in the past two years, as a record 15 new positions became available, only one of the 103 black assistants and coordinators in the NFL was even interviewed (Tygiel, 1997, p. 21). Replace black players with black assistant coaches and the NFL at age 76 would look just like the NFL did at its inception not quite a century ago.

A Comparative Study of NFL Hiring Practices

Owners of NFL franchises argue that the practice of hiring a head coach is not a racial issue but one based on objective criteria. They believe that when more black assistants become accomplished and gain more experience the doors to head-coaching positions will open with the same frequency as they do for their white counterparts. Yet a survey of who holds head coach and assistant coach positions in the NFL reveals that subjectivity based on race is a primary factor in NFL hiring practices.

Of the 30 current NFL head coaches, the three black head-coaches, Ray Rhodes of the Philadelphia Eagles, Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings, have a combined 33 years of coaching experience as either an assistant coach or coordinator in the NFL, for an average of 11 years each. In comparison, the 27 white head-coaches have an average of 6.3 years of total NFL experience, almost 5 years less than the average black head-coach. Rhodes, Dungy, and Green have an average of 6.7 years as an assistant coach and 4.3 years as a coordinator, but their white counterparts are still behind with 3.8 years as an assistant coach and 2.5 years as a coordinator. Why does it take Dungy and Rhodes 15 years in the NFL to become a head coach, while there are two white coaches who had absolutely no prior service in the NFL before being named to their first head-coaching position? Why is the road traveled by black head-coaches so much longer? Two of the most popular explanations given by team owners are that quality comes before quantity, and that the lack of collegiate head-coaching experience severely cripples black candidates.

Yet if we look at the resumes of the three black head-coaches, there is little if anything to prove that they were unsuccessful during their tenures. Considering the records of the teams Rhodes, Dungy, and Green served on, there is no reason to doubt their abilities. Ray Rhodes, as a San Francisco 49ers assistant coach and defensive coordinator, has five Superbowl wins to his credit, as many as anyone in the history of the 49ers organization. Dennis Green, has been a Big Ten coach of the year, and Tony Dungy led Minnesota to a 60-percent winning streak in four years as defense coordinator. While it is true that only Dennis Green had prior collegiate head-coaching experience, it is a common misconception that all the current white NFL head-coaches formerly held collegiate head-coaching positions. In fact, only about one third of the white head- coaches have held head-coaching positions at the collegiate levelthe same ratio of experience that the black head-coaches have. Further, among the 10 white head-coaches who were previously college head-coaches, four of them held that position for a minimal two years or less.

The usual excuses offered for the scarcity of black head-coaches in the NFLunremarkable winning percentiles and slight collegiate head-coaching experiencearent accurate and dont explain the disparities at all, but rather lend credence to the suspicion that race is an underlying factor in NFL hiring practices.

Fifty-Percent Turnover in Two Seasons Changes Nothing

In modern football, as the pressure to succeed becomes increasingly dominant, head coaches are held largely accountable for the standings of their teams at the end of the season. Today, unsuccessful coaches are fired and productive ones are lured away at such a rapid rate that few NFL coaches become identified with any one organization. Nowhere is the evidence more preponderant than in the coaching changes of the past two years. Fifteen head-coaching positions have opened in the current season, including four new starting coaches. This means that in the past two years the turnover rate for head coaches in the NFL is 50 percent. One would assume that such a high turnover might drastically alter the overall character of the NFL head- coaching roster. Even though 15 head-coaching positions have been refilled in the past two seasons, the face of the NFL remains exactly the same as it was beforewhite.

Of the 15 head coaches hired since the 1997 season, five of themJon Gruden, Kevin Gilbride, Chan Gailey, Jim Fassel and Steve Mariucciare rookie NFL head coaches. Among them they have averaged seven years of NFL coaching, with an average of four years as an assistant coach and three years as a coordinator. These statistics are significantly lower than the collective averages of the three current black head-coaches.

The criteria of high winning percentiles also seems to be flexibly generous in favor of white assistants and coordinators. Although all of the new white head-coaches except for Gruden had prior experience as collegiate head-coaches, Mariucci was California head coach for only one season, and that was a losing season in which his team lost six of its last seven games. And Fassel, who had a losing record as collegiate head coach, compiled a 45-51 record as a coordinator for four NFL teams in the six seasons before he became NFL head coach. Chan Gailey, the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, has like Rhodes been to four Superbowls. But Gaileys teams, unlike those of Rhodes, lost all of their Superbowl matches. So why is it that the white candidates, who have fallen short of the standards set by owners, are chosen to lead their teams? Is there no one else that measures up to the criteria?

It is a moot point to argue that one of the three black head coaches is a more qualified candidate than one of the five new rookies, since Green, Dungy and Rhodes were already serving their teams in the capacity of head coach. However, the same issue is pertinent when comparing top black candidates and the white rookie head-coaches chosen in favor of them. Owners, no matter what their preference, could not have selected between Rhodes and Gruden nor between Dungy and Gailey. However, in the final round of musical chairs, they did have the opportunity to select between Gilbride and Emmitt Thomas of the Washington Redskins or between Mariucci and Sherman Lewis, offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers.

A comparison between any one of the top black candidates and the five rookie head coaches calls into question the standards that African American assistants and coordinators are being measured by. Lewis, Thomas, Terry Robiskie, Tyrone Willingham, and Ray Sherman, among the notable black candidates, have nearly twice the cumulative experience as the five rookie head coaches. And although these black coaches have on average almost four more years of NFL experience than their white counterparts, they are repeatedly overlooked. Sherman Lewis, for example, is a 15-year NFL veteran who has directed the infamous West Coast offense for the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers and along the way has managed to win four Superbowl championships. Yet Steve Mariucci, formerly a quarterback coach serving under Lewis, and Jon Gruden, an assistant coach whom Lewis mentored, were hired as head coaches of the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, respectively. Even more glaring is the fact that neither team requested an interview with Lewis. In fact, for all 15 of the vacant head-coaching positions, there was only one African American candidate interviewed.

Nowhere is the popularity and power of sports more evident than in the United States. The love of athletics has become so deeply rooted in American national life that one only needs to evaluate references to sportsthree-strikes laws, baseball caps, and basketball sneakers fashion trendsto appreciate the dominating presence of sports in American popular culture. The immense power and influence that athletics wields in America stems primarily from the institution of professional sports. The industry of professional sports is one that generates international super heroes, collects millions of dollars in revenue and has the capacity to lift an ordinary child from the depths of obscurity to the kingdom of celebrity. And who could deny the profound and lasting impact of athletics upon every aspect of society? The widely documented effects of participation in sports, from teaching the importance of determination and responsibility to reducing the likelihood of girls being physical abused, are heralded and embraced by every member of society. To many the institution of sports is the model of harmony between mankind, by which people of various races work side by side, sacrificing of themselves in the name and honor of the team. And yet past all the glory, allure, and glamour of sports, it is the epitome of the most deceptive and pragmatic institutional discrimination in practice today.

The victimized minority in the sports industry is not the black nor the white athlete but rather the black executive, the black manager, and the black head coach

My assessment of racial discrimination in sports is a comprehensive study of the National Football League (NFL) and its hiring practices for head coaching positions. The study begins with a historical perspective of African Americans in the NFL and continues with a comparative analysis of the 30 current head coaches and of 6 prominent black candidates. Refuting counter-arguments and through the use of statistical evidence, I will argue that the sports industry operates in a hierarchical structure that prohibits blacks from climbing the ladders that lead to leadership positions. Attention will also be devoted to possible remedies and actions that can be implemented to alleviate this pattern of discriminatory behavior. In conclusion and perhaps most importantly, the significance of this study and its findings will serve to be a mirror in which we can reflect upon and measure our society at large.

It would be short-sighted to regard discriminatory hiring practices in the NFL as simply an issue of black versus white. The fight against discrimination in the NFL is not one between whites and blacks, nor between management and employees. One can only wish that problems of unequal opportunity were isolated to the NFL, but in reality, unfair hiring practices and the lack of minority head coaches in the NFL reflect inequities that continue to plague every other institution of American society. In the prologue to Invisible Man, his 1952 novel about race relations in America, Ralph Ellison wrote, "I am an invisible man . . . I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me." Prominent, highly qualified blacks in professional sports today are wondering why team owners simply refuse to see them.



Hire more Black Coaches in the NFL by sending a message to the goverment, and NFL. We Will No Longer Tolerate Discrimination of our coaches. Mr King may be Gone but his words is not Forgotten sign Today

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