Racial Barriers Broken in Professional Sports

Okay, so it is safe to say that we can now put the “African-American head coaches can’t be successful in the NFL” clich_ to bed. Super Bowl XLI features two of the best coaches in the NFL today. News flash! They are both African-American, and one of them is going to become the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl in its 41 year history.While both coaches are making their Super Bowl de-buts, it is hardly the first time they have achieved success. Actually, Tony Dungy has been one of the most success-ful head coaches in his 11 years at the helm with Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.In fact, he is the win-ningest head coach since 1999 with an impressive 97-41 re-cord in that span. Yes-that’s better than ANY other coach including the likes of: Bill Parcels, Joe Gibbs, Mike Hol-mgren, Bill Cower and even Bill Belichick.Dungy lifted Tampa Bay out of the obscurity and fail-ure that is all the franchise had ever known and led them to the playoffs four times in six years before jumping to Indianapolis in 2002.He has successfully guid-ed the Colts to the playoffs in each of his five seasons there, and into their first Su-per Bowl since a guy named Johnny Unitas lead the Colts to their only Super Bowl win 36 years ago, when they were still in Baltimore.While it can never hurt to have Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne on your team, Dungy has undertaken the task of resurrecting one of the NFL’s worst defenses in recent years.Though they are not a top ten caliber defense yet, they have really stepped it up when it mattered most in the playoffs-a testament to Dungy and his unique “Tam-pa 2” defense that he devised when he was the head coach in Tampa Bay with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and then linebackers coach Lovie Smith.Small world, huh?Smith is in his third year as head coach of the Chicago Bears, highlighted by one of the league’s top defenses, captained by All-Pro line-backer Brian Urlacher and perhaps the best example of a rollercoaster quarterback in the NFL, Rex Grossman.Grossman’s story is neither here nor there; this is about Coach Smith’s rise through the ranks of coach-ing to reaching its peak: The Super Bowl.After coming to Chicago in 2004, Smith led the Bears to the playoffs last year and this year and on his way to the Super Bowl, claimed Coach of the Year honors.This coming April will mark the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. It is amaz-ing to look at how far the sports world has come in ra-cial equality since then, and even more amazing when you consider at how much farther there is still to go.In 2006 there were only seven African-American head coaches, two of which, Art Shell and Dennis Green, were fired, but with Mike Tomlin recently named head coach of the Pittsburgh Steel-ers and both Ron Rivera and Mike Singletary candidates for the Dallas Cowboys job it is possible their will be no decline.Rest assured there is slow but steady progress being made within the coaching ranks with many thanks go-ing to Steelers owner Dan Rooney who was behind the implementation of the aptly named “Rooney rule,” which requires teams to interview at least one minority candi-date when looking for a new head coach.Hopefully when the world tunes in on Feb. 4 to watch these two friends duel it out on the ultimate stage, they will take a moment to reflect on how the struggle for racial equality still exists today. Not just in sports, but across the world in many areas.And isn’t it fitting that it comes at the start of Black History month, where one of these two men will write another piece of history?Hopefully this will open the door for more opportuni-ties for other African-Ameri-can coaches down the line, and somewhere Mr. Robinson has to be looking down and smiling.