I have a friend — let’s call him “Wes” because his real name is Scott but he does not want me mentioning him — who, every time I ask, “How come there are not more black head coaches in the NFL?” responds, “How come there are not more white running backs in the NFL?”
Wes then usually follows up by saying, “Why does it always have to be about race?”
In regard to the lack of white running backs, the NFL scouting combine does not measure skin color. However, the de facto, stopwatch-less NFL coaching combine seems to measure a bunch of things other than speed, power and agility.
And why is it always about race? Well, for starters, I think much of U.S. history — 87 years of slavery, the Civil War and another century before the Civil Rights Act with Jim Crow in between, mass incarceration — answers that question.
As for the sports world, the numbers don’t lie: In the NFL, 70 percent of the players are black, but never have more than 25 percent of the head coaches been black. That number is usually much lower, as it is right now — the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Anthony Lynn and the Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores are the only black head coaches among 32 franchises.
In fact, only once in NFL history has a team replaced a black head coach with another black man — in 2009, when the Indianapolis Colts’ Tony Dungy retired and Jim Caldwell succeeded him.
After Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many thought a post-racial America — in which prejudice fades as black and white become immaterial — had arrived.
Look around: Does this feel like post-racial America to you? I think not.
I have created what I call “the U.S. Postal Service test” to prove this.
Go to your nearest post office — to mail a letter or just for nostalgic purposes — and, while standing in line, take note of your immediate thought every time somebody walks in:
“That’s an old guy.”
“That’s a woman with a baby carriage.”
“That’s a fat guy.”
“Man, that’s an ugly shirt.”
“That’s a black guy.”
And there you have it — you identify people by various characteristics, but the defining characteristic of the black person is they are black.
Note: This test might not work if you happen to be black.
(Column Intermission: At Thursday’s news conference introducing Ron Rivera as head coach, Washington R*dsk*ns owner Daniel Snyder began by saying, “First off, happy Thanksgiving, everybody.” In his defense, it is entirely possible that Snyder, who lives under a rock beneath his Potomac mansion currently on the market for $49 million, lost track of the calendar counting his money in the dark.)
To be fair, the lack of black head coaches is not just a product of racism. We tend to hire people we know, people with similar backgrounds. In a league with no black owners and one black general manager, that’s a whole lot of white-only business meetings, golf outings and dinner parties.
Which is why the Rooney Rule, an NFL policy requiring every team to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions, was adopted in 2003; it was expanded in 2009 to include general manager jobs.
Yet in 2020, there are only three black head coaches, the same number as in 2003.
So the Rooney Rule hasn’t delivered results; on the other hand, I’ve got to say, nepotism does deliver results.
Frankly, most teams will just go through the motions in interviewing a minority candidate en route to hiring whom they want.
It makes the Rooney Rule feel more like public relations than provocative policy.
And even if the Rooney Rule is well intentioned, if you keep bringing in one minority among 10 or 15 serious candidates, you are hardly ever going to hire that minority. But if you bring in three or four or — gasp! — even more minority candidates, occasionally one will dazzle, and you will think, “Where has this guy been hiding?”
Uh, in broad daylight.
Probably in a post office line.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Seeing how much you like computerized statistical analysis, I performed a computerized statistical analysis on your most recent column. It shows that 52.63157895 percent of the bugaboos you cited had nothing to do with sports. Aren’t you out of bounds? (Ian Timberlake; Washington, D.C.)
A. Go fly a kite near a half-built stadium on a windless day.
Q. My wife says I am giving him the benefit of the doubt, but I believe ESPN NFL analyst Booger McFarland stops talking the moment the game ends. Your thoughts? (David Bradley; Austin)
A. Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Booger McFarland: “An unexamined play ain’t happening on my watch.”
Q. Let’s see: a meddlesome boss, a backstabbing culture and a high probability of early termination. Wait, which Cabinet position did Ron Rivera just take over? (Terry Golden; Vienna, Va.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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