Saturday, November 10, 2007


Note: This was written on January 22, shortly after the AFC and NFC Conference Championships when both Tony Dungy (Colts) and Lovie Smith (Bears) became the first black head coaches to lead their teams to the Super Bowl.

For the first time, not only will there be a black head coach in the Super Bowl, but there will be two. And guess what?

I wish we didn't have to point it out.

Save your "Uncle Tom" and "hater" references for someone else. I'm not your typical sportswriter or fan. In fact, I'm probably a little more aware of the history of sports than most people. Aware that first and foremost, there is much more I can learn about the games and the world off the field, whether it was the days of Fritz Pollard or the rumblings of fleet-footed Maurice Jones-Drew. For anyone to call themselves a true fan and a true scribe, they must acknowledge what has existed before you, with you and what will come after you. I am also aware of the slow progress of fellow minorities in this business as well as society at large. Being the lightweight, lightskinned, black kid from Castle Hill projects that 'talked white' forced me to be a little more keen and studious of the history of the world; doing a bit more than pondering how the hell I ended up in the projects in the first place. I digress…

Until I got to high school, I never gave a thought about coaches in sports. The only coaches I knew about were the ones that coached my favorite teams. Walsh & Seifert, Riley & Van Gundy, Cox, Keenan for a couple of years. Great or at least good coaches in their own right who knew what it took to win championships through building a team that believed in the unified goal of winning (or trying to win) the final postseason games. As each person who is writing or thinking about the historic accomplishment, I was a kid who despite knowing that minorities were not holding the majority of management and coaching positions, only cared about the men and women playing the games I loved. However, when Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy (very good friends off the field) coached their teams into Super Bowl XLI, the prevailing thought I had was not "this is unbelievable".

I thought about a recent job interview.

I was asked by the interviewer questions that I thought were a bit pervasive. Nothing illegal or illicit, but questions I never expected to be asked in order to get a job. While I am an alumnus of the Bronx High School of Science, I am proud to be an alumnus of Babson College. Top faculty, intensive academics, proximity to Boston and for the most part, I have been blessed to have lived and worked with good-natured people despite the competitiveness of the business world. Yet, as pointed out by some white friends of mine, Babson is quite possibly the whitest college in the land. WASP-y, phenomenally affluent and as many bastions of education, slowly building an ethnically diverse student body. Very slowly, but trying to do so, nonetheless. The interviewer asked me why I didn't consider attending a historically black college (HBCU). I recall arguing with a few folks from high school about not applying to one, saying that while there are some top-notch schools such as Morehouse in the ranks, the most important factors for my choice had absolutely nothing to do with my skin color. As naïve as that sounds to folks, it's the truth to this day. I told the gentleman the truth; I wanted to go to a school not too far from home and I wanted to go to what is the true source of power in this country. While minorities are certainly capable of wielding economic power equal to our white brethren, the reality is that this is yet to be the case. Having been a football player in his youth, my dad gave me a nugget of wisdom; before you change the game, you have to know how to play it first. That last line was the reason why I chose Babson. It's why I have taken this winding road towards my professional career, personal happiness and the overall benefit for those that stand with me.

What does that have to do with Smith and Dungy? The same that is has to do with Herm Edwards, Romeo Crennel, Marvin Lewis and now, Mike Tomlin. The same for Ozzie Newsome, Rick Smith and now Jerry Reese. Each man wanted to be judged by their merits, having been through the trenches as former players. Each man wanted to be respected for their prowess as their coaching, teaching, scouting and managing records have shown to their peers and players. Each man wanted as fair of a shot as the next man. I would argue as many of us minorities participating in society that at the end of the day, these men did not want to be acknowledged as a black coach or general manager. Even the controversial Bob Johnson may rather be recognized as a businessman and the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats as opposed to being the first black majority owner in North American sports history. The same goes for Arte Moreno (Anaheim Angels); to be more than the first Latino majority owner. Each of these men climbed the ranks in sports being well aware of the barriers on management and ownership. They could play, but they can't run the business? Just plain retarded. How did they respond? They hustled. They observed. They waited patiently, but never rested on their laurels or waited for an uproar. They kept hustling and observing. They believed that eventually, they would be taken for their merit, even if they had to politick. They knew that whether asked or not, they were carrying a mantle for those to follow and those who are watching. They wanted to be their own men, not having been denoted as the 'first'. Period. And just as in my own life, they knew that not every white person would stiff-arm them from their goal. My dad would have said they learned how to play the game. Just as one of the few regular black sportswriters in New York City is trying to do.

In his press conference after toppling the Saints, Smith said, "it would feel even better to be the first African-American coach to hold up the world championship trophy." While this is guaranteed come February 4th, I'm going to continue to wait for the first day that we don't have to recognize anything but our merit.

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