1.23.2007

some thoughts on black coaches

it's been a good couple of days for black coaches. first, not only do we get to see the first black coach in the super bowl, we get to see two first black coaches in the super bowl. further more, mike tomlin, a 31 year old black person, was hired as the coach of the pittsburgh steelers, one of the most prestigious coaching gigs out there.

jemele hill of espn's page 2 wrote an interesting column today about how tomlin's hiring is actually more indicative of progress than the lovie smith and tony dungy coaching in the super bowl. her argument, which i find to be very convincing, is that this is one of the first times that a black coach as gotten a sweet coaching gig, instead of a crappy one that basically set them up for failure (see art shell in oakland, and dennis green in arizona). for years, these upper echelon positions have been reserved only for white coaches, and tomlin should be remembered as the one who broke this barrier. while i'm totally convinced that the steelers are as talented as hill seems to think, and this has actually happened before when tony dungy inherited an extremely good offense in indy, but overall, she's right. good for the steelers, good for tomlin. in any case, it would seem that russ grimm wasn't happy with the decision.

the other thing i wanted to bring up is the way that the general media has been covering the smith/dungy thing. like every should be, everyone is celebrating saying, this is a great moment. i'm in agreement here. what i'm not in agreement is the hook that many of the writers are using when they are saying something to the effect of "this proves that african americans can coach at the highest level in professional football." maybe i'm being too sensitive, but i kinda feel like the implication of this line of thinking is that before, we weren't 100% sure that the reason there hasn't been any good black coaches was due to something other than racism. put another way, the conventional thinking implied is that up to this point, all the talk about african americans being inherently incapable may have had something to it, since no black coach had been to the super bowl before. but now we don't have to consider that anymore. i know, it is a semantic thing, but one that i think is important nonetheless, but to me it would make more sense to go with the angle of "racism starting to crumble in the NFL coaching ranks."

this of course is consistent with the general sports philosophy and race philosphy, as dungy and smith are being protrayed as "hard working" and "really nice" guys, which is code for "they're just like us white people." it is also reflective of the myth of meritocracy as people can now claim "if you just work hard enough, it doesn't matter what color you are."

of course, what i'm really afraid of is the next logical step: people saying, "well we had two black coaches in the super bowl, that must mean we've solved the problem of the lack of african americans in head coaching positions and front office positions.", kinda like how a lot of people think that racism ended after the civil rights movement. there's still plenty of problems with the number of people of color at the top of sports, and basically every social institution.

supplemental reading: here's a column by bomani jones that cites an economics article that shows that black coaches have to be better than white coaches to keep their jobs. good stuff.

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