Sunday, February 04, 2007

Superbowl - A Civil Rights Victory

Today marks a landmark day in NFL history. For the first time, two black coaches head the teams that face off against each other in the Superbowl.

Is their success a result of a gradual evolution of understanding re civil rights? Proof that racial tensions are going away? I wish that was the story. But the real history of today's event is, as usual, a little different.

I just got this email from the director of, which explains the history:

When I was growing up, football was dominated by Black players, but we weren't allowed to be quarterback. And we certainly couldn't be the coach.

I don't even care much about football, but I can't wait to watch the game this afternoon. Today, America celebrates a first—two Black coaches in the Super Bowl. It may seem like an accident, or the inevitable result of time's passage, but it's not. Like most civil rights gains, it's the result of active struggle.

In 2002, attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran Jr. decided that Blacks had been shut out of coaching long enough. They released a report entitled "Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performances, Inferior Opportunities" that called out the NFL's "dismal record of minority hiring." Two facts stood out in the report: 1) while Blacks comprised 70% of NFL players, only 6% of coaches and 28% percent of assistant coaches were Black; and 2) while only six of 400 NFL head coaches hired since 1929 were Black, they significantly outperformed their white counterparts in wins and playoff appearances. Mehri and Cochran threatened a lawsuit, and the NFL agreed to change.

Later that year the NFL adopted the "Rooney Rule," requiring teams to interview at least one non-white candidate for any open coaching position. In 2004, two of the seven vacancies were filled by Black coaches. The Rooney rule did what happy accidents and the passage of time could not—make a dent in race-based discrimination in the NFL.

Today, we've got two black coaches in the Superbowl (and a Black Presidential candidate in the wings), but these are small steps towards a much greater goal of equality and racial justice. Most Black people still have second-class access to quality health care, jobs and education; an increasing number of Black men go to prison instead of college; and Katrina made clear that protecting the lives of Black folks, especially if they are poor, is of little importance to those in power.

Van and I started ColorOfChange because we know that change doesn't happen without a fight, and because we have faith—and great hope—that all of us, together, can keep pushing forward to make major change for Blacks in America.

Today, let's celebrate these two amazing brothers—Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts—and pay tribute to those who helped them get to the top of the game. And then tomorrow, let's continue the work of raising our collective voices, applying pressure, and fighting for greater justice for us all.

Thank you for being a part of this work,

-- James Rucker
Executive Director,
February 4th, 2007
So if you're watching, or watched, the game today, I hope you realize the fight for equality is not over, and requires constant vigilence.

May the better team win! And may all of us win someday through a permanent elimination of racism.


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