Monday, January 22, 2007

On The Media and NFL Head Coaches

Today's victories by the Colts and Saints have the media swarming over the first two black head coaches to make it to the Super Bowl, the Bears' Lovie Smith and the Colts' Tony Dungy. I'm happy for both coaches, as they've done very good work with their respective teams and deserve to make it to the biggest stage. However, the media seem to have the idea that suddenly little kids will turn on their TVs, see two black head coaches facing off in Miami, and believe that things like race no longer matter in sports.

I just don't see it. The last time I checked, there were no Asian, Hispanic or female head coaches. Nearly two-thirds of the American population--assuming America thinks the way ESPN says it does--is getting the message that they'll never make it there. Meanwhile, every child who's not African-American will think he has no chance of becoming an NFL running back or cornerback. Is this the message the league really wants to send?

I don't believe that it is, but neither do I think NFL teams are really interested in inspiring kids of different races to pursue coaching, nor should they be. They're just hiring the best man for the job, regardless of what color his skin is. Focusing on a coach's race instead of his skills and achievements serves to cheapen his accomplishments.

Jackie Robinson is one of the most underrated baseball players of all time, because the average fan sees him only as a pioneer, and not as one of the best second basemen of all time, a guy who was among the leaders in on-base percentage every year and played top-notch defense at a key position. Obviously baseball should not downplay Robinson's role in integrating the game, but MLB should make more of an effort to celebrate his contributions on the field as well as off. It's only fair to him and his legacy.

In the same vein, I think it's more fair and respectful to give credit to Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy for being great head coaches rather than black head coaches. The color barrier has long been broken in NFL coaching staffs, but it's a rare breed who can string together a run of 12-win seasons like Dungy has.

Side note: I find it humorous that Smith, by virtue of playing earlier in the day, will forever be referred to as the first black head coach to make it. Dungy loses out on the honor by a mere four hours.

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