African American Coaches Face Off in Super Bowl, Make Sports History

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Jan. 25, 2007

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leaders applaud the diligent work of National Football League head coaches Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and their players as they meet in Super Bowl XLI Feb. 4. For the first time in that sporting event's history each team will be led by an African American.

"This is truly a significant moment in professional sports and a point of personal pride for these individuals," said NAACP President & CEO Bruce S. Gordon. "The concern has never been one of competency, but one of opportunity and support. Black coaches are rarely given the chance to succeed at this level in professional sports or even the prospect of recovery should they falter. These gentlemen stand as strong models of what can be accomplished should the door to success remain open. Owners should take note. "

No doubt, progress has been made in recent years. Seven of the NFL's 32 head coaches are African American (21.9 percent), and three of them are likely to lead this year's Coach of the Year poll.

Despite these advancements, a 2002 report titled, "Black Coaches in the NFL: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities," developed by labor attorneys including the late Johnnie Cochran, uses statistical data to argue that the league has regressed in its efforts to hire more black head coaches ? while those hired perform better than white counterparts they are often dismissed faster. Little has changed.

Fritz Pollard was the NFL's first black head coach, in Akron, Ohio, from 1921-1937. It would be 52 years before another black would lead a team when the Oakland Raiders hired Art Shell in 1989. There have only been seven others: Dungy, Smith, Herman Edwards, Dennis Green, Marvin Lewis, Ray Rhodes and Romeo Crennell. Terry Robiskie was an interim coach with the Washington Redskins for three games in 2000. About 67 percent of NFL players are black.

While the professional sidelines have increased their diversity, particularly among position coaches, college sidelines are still lacking. There are only five black Division I-A college head coaches out of 119 teams (4.2 percent). "If you look at the formula, it's an obvious social injustice," said Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association in a recent ESPN report. "It should not be. It does not fit, and it begs for more scrutiny."

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

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