Black NFL coaches have a tougher time finding and keeping employment

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FORMER DETROIT LIONS Coach Jim Caldwell and Crusader columnist Vernon A. Williams near the end of Caldwell's tenure with the Indianapolis Colts.

By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader

Just because you are paranoid does not mean they’re NOT out to get you.

Other than high-level appointees of the White House, there is probably no segment of workers in the nation with the dubious distinction of such a tenuous condition of employment as National Football League Black coaches.

In total transparency, coaching is risky business for all races in all professional sports. But like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, cancer and so many other diseases – the NFL may exhibit more symptoms of racism than any of other sports businesses.

This is the league in which seven out of every 10 players is African American (so much for power in numbers). The league that has some owners who threaten to fire players who kneel during the national anthem; players called “sons of bitches” by none other than the so-called leader of the free world.

The league was so scandalous in hiring Black coaches that it had to implement what was called, “The Rooney” – named after Art Rooney who owned the Pittsburg Steelers prior to his death. Loosely, the 2003 rule requires owners to include minority coach candidates in their effort to fill vacancies.

That’s right. They needed a rule in professional football to convince team owners to even look in the direction of African American coaching prospects. Again, let me repeat – this in a league that is over 70 percent Black.

The Detroit Lions fired the affable and talented Jim Caldwell as head coach after they defeated the Green Bay Packers on the last day of the regular season for their ninth win, leaving them just shy of the playoffs but ensuring they finished the season with a winning record.

The victory was the 36th in the four-year tenure of Caldwell – lifting his winning percentage with the Lions to 562. This gave him a better win-loss record than any head coach in Detroit since Buddy Parker left the team in 1956.

Despite this record, though, Detroit fired Caldwell.

The Lions were not the only NFL team to see their coach depart that day, but they were the only one with a winning record to fire their coach. That happens only about 6 percent of the time, according to Forbes magazine. So even a non-sports person can figure out that 94 percent of the co-aches with Caldwell’s record DON’T lose their job.

But here is the kicker, out of the last 16 teams with winning records that fired coaches; four of them were Black – Art Shell, Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith and now Caldwell.

Prevailing data reveals evidence that when it comes to diversity in the NFL coaching ranks, hiring is not the only issue. For Black coaches, being successful does NOT seem like enough. The sad reality is that it is extremely unlikely that a coach with a winning record will be fired – unless the coach happens to be Black.

In defending this particular move, Detroit general manager Bob Quinn said that he expects the Lions to contend with the top teams in the NFL and that Caldwell’s Lions have not done this. So will this move likely change the ability of the Lions to contend? History teaches that most have worse records the following year.

I know. We won’t have to sponsor any “rent party” to help Jim Caldwell and his family make ends meet. Like most current and former coaches, he is extremely comfortable. The issue is denial of those things Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for – like equality amidst those with whom we share all but one demographic, the color of our skin.

Putting things into historical perspective, there has been considerable progress. From 1929 when Dr. King was born, through the tumultuous period of his untimely demise 39 years later, Caldwell would have had no hope of coaching in the NFL.

Still, as we reflect on the most iconic figure of the 20th Century, it becomes clear that Dr. King’s dream remains a vision – Black America has not reached the Promised Land. Dr. King’s marvelous militancy and incisive intellect planted seeds from which Black social and economic gains sprouted while vestiges of Jim Crow withered.

Much work remains in our quest to fulfill the ideals Dr. King advanced during his impactful lifetime. This is a good time to remind ourselves no matter our everyday reality,  Blacks deserve the same consideration as any other Americans whether they flip burgers, toss garbage, perform surgery, build bridges or coach in the NFL.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION  by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: vernonawilliams@yahoo.com.

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