Arts & Entertainment, Sports

Picking Splinters: For Race Relations, Superbowl XLI Just a Minor Mark

There are two black head football coaches in this year’s Super Bowl, thereby insuring that, for the first time ever, a team with an African American head coach will win the Super Bowl. Forgive me if I think that by applauding that achievement we’re missing the point of advancing race relations altogether.

This is not Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. This is not Rosa Parks defying a ludicrous and barbaric law. It’s not even Denzel Washington winning an Oscar. This is simply two men achieving the goal that they set for themselves and their teams a long time ago.

Sunday, on the CBS pre-game show, Shannon Sharpe emphatically made the point that this proves that college and professional teams need to be hiring black coaches. He noted that because Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith advanced his team to the Super Bowl, teams should shell out the big bucks to black coaches. From where I stand, I think that is exactly the wrong conclusion. And frankly, I’m not sure why this is major issue.

Don’t get me wrong, what Smith and Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy achieved on Sunday is very, very special. And when one of them does become the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl, it will be an important milestone. But a milestone is all it should be.

This event is important because it signals that the larger strides made decades earlier have achieved their goal. There is an equal opportunity now, something that did not exist at one sad point in our nation’s history. Men of any race have the chance to coach a team to a Super Bowl. However, that opportunity has existed since Art Shell took the reins of the Raiders in 1989. Shell never got to the Super Bowl, but the reason that Shell’s Raiders never made it to the Super Bowl was because other teams beat his Raiders, not because there was a prohibition on African American coaches in the Super Bowl.

It takes a great coach to get to the Super Bowl. Not a white coach, not a black coach, a great coach. The fact that both Smith and Dungy have led their teams to the Super Bowl means that they are great coaches. It does not mean that all African American coaches are great. Drawing that conclusion, as Sharpe did prior to the Colts-Patriots game, is a disservice to Smith, Dungy and any other black coaching candidate looking for a job.

Did University of Washington Head Coach Ty Willingham’s skill on the sidelines just improve because of what Smith and Dungy achieved? Does Raiders owner Al Davis now regret firing Shell (again) earlier this month after a 2-14 season, simply because there are two black head coaches in the Super Bowl? Did their victories net Mike Tomlin the Steelers head coaching job? The answer is obvious and it is, of course, “no.”

Regardless of his race, a coach’s resume and record should speak for itself. Either he’s a good coach, or he’s not. His abilities are not skewed either way because of the color of his skin, or what other, similar people have done before him. To believe so is not only naïve, it’s prejudiced. And isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to get rid of?

By discussing what Smith and Dungy achieved primarily as a story of race goes against the progress towards true racial equality. Tell me exactly what bridge we’re crossing by making this a talking point? Why do we have to saddle Smith and Dungy with this? The media did the same thing to speed skater Shani Davis, when he became the first African American to win an individual gold at the 2006 Winter Olympics. These guys just want to win, to be the best they could be at their sport, just like everyone else. Equal. Get it? Making it to the Super Bowl is a great achievement. It is not a great “black” achievement.

In a December 2005 interview with CBS news show “60 Minutes,” Morgan Freeman called the idea of Black History Month “ridiculous.” He went on to say: “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.” The same thing applies here: Smith and Dungy are Super Bowl coaches, not black Super Bowl coaches.

When Carter G. Woodson provided the origins for Black History Month in 1926, he also said that he hoped one day it could be eliminated, when black history would become fundamental to American history. Anyone who doesn’t think that African Americans are integral to the National Football League is either an idiot, or simply isn’t paying attention. It’s time to move on.

In his interview, Freeman said: “I’m going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.” Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy are two tremendous coaches. Period. They should be congratulated on their accomplishment of delivering their teams to the Super Bowl. Period. What’s wrong with leaving it at that?