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Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith make Super Bowl history

Published Feb 6, 2007 9:20 PM

Lovie Smith, left, and Tony Dungy embrace
after Super Bowl Feb. 4.

Black history and sports history were made on Feb. 4 when two African-American professional football head coaches, Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears, led their teams to the most popular one-day sports event in the U.S. and one of the most popular worldwide—the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is the showdown between the winner of the National Football Conference and the winner of the American Football Conference to determine the champion of the National Football League.

Until now, the most significant Super Bowl since its inception in 1967—in terms of social significance—was in 1988, when Doug Williams became the first Black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl. He also won the Most Valuable Player award.

Now Dungy has become the first Black head coach to ever win the Super Bowl as the Colts defeated the Bears by the score of 29-17 in Miami. Dungy, the prior head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, gave Smith his first job as an assistant coach.  Dungy’s Colts coaching staff is half people of color.

The sight of the two coaches embracing at the end of Super Bowl XLI was captured by media all around the world. Smith told the media after the game that if he couldn’t win the Super Bowl, he would have wanted Dungy to win based on their personal relationship and the fact that Dungy is Black.

Racism and sports

This year, 2007, will mark the 60th anniversary of the great Jackie Robinson, an African American, breaking the color barrier of Major League Baseball, a feat that challenged white supremacy in other areas of sports and U.S. society as a whole before the Civil Rights movement took root in the South.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of when the former Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis made the racist statement that Black people “may not have some of the necessities” to become managers of baseball teams.

College and professional football was integrated long before Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. MLB, however, was a more popular and prestigious sport at the time, being dubbed as “America’s pastime.”

When Robinson was asked to play in an old-timers game following his retirement, he refused, stating, “I must sorrowfully refuse until I see more progress being made off the playing field on the coaching lines and in the managerial departments.” (edgeofsports.com)

Football has gained more popularity over the decades, especially with the influence of TV. Today, the NFL players are at least 70 percent African American but up until Super Bowl XLI, there are still only six Black head coaches out of 32—besides Dungy and Smith, there are Herman Edwards, Marvin Lewis, Romeo Crennell and the recently hired Mike Tomlin. Smith is currently the lowest paid coach in the entire NFL.  

This gross disparity should raise the question: Why aren’t at least 70 percent of the NFL head coaches Black? This goal could be met with a NFL-sponsored coaches’ training program especially for Black people and other people of color who have been systematically denied this opportunity.

When it comes to executive positions in the NFL, the numbers are even more dismal. There are only three Black general managers and no Black owners. (edgeofsports.com)

The increase in Black NFL coaches did not come about out of any anti-racist consciousness on the part of the majority white owners. Back in 2002, the late Black lawyer Johnnie Cochran and another lawyer, Cyrus Mehri, threatened to bring a lawsuit against the NFL for racial discrimination in their hiring practices. At that time, there were only two Black head coaches in the NFL.

The impending lawsuit forced the NFL to implement the “Rooney rule,” named after Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner, Art Rooney. This rule states that for every head coach vacancy, NFL owners must interview, although not necessarily hire, at least one person of color for the job. Rooney just hired Mike Tomlin for the Steelers’ new coaching job.

Bomani Jones wrote for ESPN.com regarding the NFL, “There is nothing worth celebrating about a league that has to force its franchises to interview nonwhite coaching candidates and finally has a black coach in the 41st edition of its biggest game. That’s not a good thing. That’s a damn shame.”

In National Collegiate Athletic Association football, amongst 119 Division One teams, there are only six Black head coaches, where 50 percent of these NCAA players are Black. (mercurynews.com)

The achievements of Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith not only signaled a great historical leap forward but also show how much farther the NFL has to go to strengthen affirmative action, including quotas, when it comes to hiring more coaches of color.

Racist profiling in sports is as pervasive under capitalist U.S. society as police brutality, and only a struggle from below can turn the situation around.

E-mail: mmoorehead@workers.org