NFL Hires Do Not Reflect King’s Dream

Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is one just three African Americans that are currently head coaches in the NFL. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman
Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is one just three African Americans that are currently head coaches  in the NFL. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman
Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is one just three African Americans that are currently head coaches in the NFL. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for peace, stood for racial equality and brought hope to the notion that we would all one day be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin. African Americans hoping to become a head coach in the National Football League will probably think the latter will never happen on a consistent basis.  Maybe one day it will.

But for now, those words that King uttered during his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, seems to have fallen on deaf ears on the hierarchy branch of the NFL. More specifically, the recent action of NFL owners to not hire any African Americans as head coach of their franchises appears to have the reflection of a bygone era of racial inequality and schematic bigotry.

The level playing field for African Americans hoping for an opportunity to lead an NFL team looks as if it does not fit into the current agenda of NFL ownership and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Judging by the latest head coaching and general manger vacancies being filled without a person of color or woman being hired, the league-intentional or not-has made it crystal clear that diversity for those positions is not a priority. And that’s a shame. It is also unacceptable in this day and age.

African Americans represent nearly 70% (67 percent, according to the 2012 Racial and Gender Report Card done by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport) of all players playing in the NFL. It is also one of the two major sports (basketball is the other) in which African Americans largely support. Yet when it comes to the real shot-callers from the sidelines and sitting in management, the slate becomes a white chalkboard with a couple black dots sprinkled on it.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is fired up after Rashard Mendenhall's 8-yard scoring run against the Green Bay Packers during Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. The Packers defeated the Steelers 31-25. (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell)
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is fired up after Rashard Mendenhall’s 8-yard scoring run against the Green Bay Packers during Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. The Packers defeated the Steelers 31-25. (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell)

That’s because the league’s owners seem to still operate with a “good-old boy” mentality when it comes to who they trust to lead their expensive franchises. In light of the latest hiring binge in which eight NFL teams that were in need to have their head coaching vacancies filled, none of these positions were filled by an African American or any other minority.

Ditto for the five general manager spots that was up for grabs as well. All these jobs were claimed by white men, including one coach who had enough clout to get hired by the Chicago Bears all the way from the Canadian Football League. Of the 32 head coaching positions in the NFL, only three black coaches rule the sidelines on Sundays-Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Leslie Frazier of the Minnesota Vikings and Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Is this racism being perpetrated or is it simply a matter of NFL owners vetting the hottest and brightest in the coaching business? I don’t know. But I am of the mindset that that if something walks like a duck, quacks like a duck-it is a duck.  Either way, the NFL has a public relations nightmare it has to fix, not to mention putting out internal fires with its workforce.

Many people think that just because they see all of these black faces playing for their favorite teams on Sunday that the NFL has somehow absolved itself from racist practices. It hasn’t. What they see is the makeup of the league’s labor force which entertains them. It’s time for the NFL to look at itself in the mirror. It is no longer acceptable for African Americans to just be confined to the playing field.

Jackie Robinson broke that barrier in 1947. There should be more black coaches, black coordinators and executives.

The NFL needs to do some serious soul-searching to climb aboard the 21st Century train of diversity in management positions. Otherwise, the league risk looking like a corporate entity perpetrating the same kind of evil against minorities the same way southern towns used to do to African Americans when segregation was law and racial bigotry controlled any type of upward mobility.

Racism is a simple disregard towards other people where one race believes it more superior than others, Dr. King said in his book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”

“Racism is a philosophy based on contempt for life,” King said. “It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission. It is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future. Racism is total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual or physical homicide upon the out-group.”

Hue Jackson was fired after just one season of coaching the Oakland Raiders. Jackson coached the Raiders during the 2011 NFL season. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman
Hue Jackson was fired after just one season of coaching the Oakland Raiders. Jackson coached the Raiders during the 2011 NFL season. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

The NFL’s so-called Rooney Rule in which all teams must interview a minority candidate for a head coaching job, has now become a joke. It has become nothing more than a band-aid to an internal injury, a shame of a scam with a cosmetic facelift. In order to interview for this type of position, a person has to at least be in a qualified position to do so.

In the case of African Americans, who face an unofficial mandate as players to be stronger, jump higher and to run faster than everyone else when it comes to just about every position on the football field outside of quarterback and placekicker, this is almost like a double-edge curse.

That’s because there’s only one black person in the entire league who sits in an offensive coordinator position-Jim Caldwell of the Baltimore Ravens. Caldwell, who was associate head coach to Tony Dungy for the Indianapolis Colts, eventually took that team to the Super Bowl. He was eventually fired by the Colts before taking the Baltimore gig this season. What this tells me is that the league seems to be content with its-if it is white, its right-hiring philosophy of head coaches, general managers or executives.

It’s 2013, and Commissioner Goodell and the league’s owners are basically making a mockery of what equality is about. Diversity is nothing but lip service when it comes to minorities becoming head coaches and calling the shots from the management box. When you look at NFL’s owner’s box to the executives suites to the quarterback position on the field, the league has become the same type of exclusive country club it was some 30 or 40 years ago. Not much has changed. The usual suspects are still running the asylum.

And since Commissioner Goodell basically works for the owners and their myopic view of the world, America’s so-called melting pot of gender and racial blend may be a while to adapt to. But at the end of the day, equality does not come without a push, a prod, even a fight, especially for African Americans, Dr. King said in the book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”

“The Negro has not gained a single right in America without persistent pressure and agitation,” said King. “However lamentable it may seem, the Negro is now convinced that white America will never admit him to equal rights unless it is coerced into doing it.”

King stood on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement, battling wicked sheriffs, leading marches, joining in sit-in protests, all in the name of fighting for justice and to see that African Americans be treated as equal citizens. Black coaches are still waiting for that reality to happen.

 

 

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1056 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.