By Jason Keidel
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To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it is altogether fitting and proper that we speak about this, particularly on MLK Day.
Because of when and where I was raised, most of my friends are black. That's just the way things shook out. And that's how life should shake out. You find friends, employees, or employers based on the blind metrics of equality. As a born sports junkie, all my heroes were black - Muhammad Ali, Lynn Swann, Mel Blount, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, etc. A true meritocracy knows no hue.
You couldn't swing a dead dog in my neighborhood without hitting a black kid who attended an Ivy League school, back when that stuff wasn't supposed to happen (25 to 30 years ago). Three friends went to Brown, one to Princeton, one to Cornell, and one landed in Stanford as consolation prize. None of them were beneficiaries of quotas or SAT handicaps. They just kicked ass in the classroom and beyond. All of them are more successful than I am with a fraction of the advantages I had.
So you'd think that not only as an authentic member of the American mosaic, poured out of the melting pot - and a Steelers fan - I'd be loud and proud about the Rooney Rule, the NFL's requirement to interview minority candidates for head coaching and general manager vacancies. Yet I've been an opponent for years.
Frankly, I've found diversity to be a pompous, corporate mantra, a retroactive correction that can't work. You don't learn diversity in a conference room or seminar but rather as six year olds in the sandbox and the classroom, where I got my tutelage. No one is born a racist. You learn it from family or your environment. So it was the rare time I disagreed with my black brothers who called for the Rooney Rule as signature legislation.
As we know, sports double a trial balloon for cultural change, from Joe Louis to Jackie Robinson to Curt Flood - all men who created a template, not created by one. Likewise, I thought a natural wave would overwhelm the exclusive doors of NFL management.
But I've finally found religion.
So far, 14 HC/GM positions have been filled over the last month, and all by white men. That must change, but I don't know how to do it, other than rely on evolution, glacial cultural change spawning great athletes, musicians, comedians, actors, and captains of industry. Even the White House has become a misnomer.
Then, as if karma or the cosmos slapped me in the face, my beloved black & gold hired an obscure, 30-something assistant barely old enough to grow a beard. "Who the f&#@ is Mike Tomlin?" I asked. Not because he's black, but because I couldn't spot him to save my life. I quickly find out who Mike Tomlin was - a great coach who took my team to two Super Bowls. He's not the black coach of my team; he's the coach of my team.
And without the Rooney Rule there is no Mike Tomlin, Super Bowl champion. But even with the Rooney mandate the NFL has engaged in semantic subterfuge, funneling a conga line of token candidates through their halls with a very vanilla hire in their hip pockets. How do we correct this corrosive climate? The answer is beyond my pay grade. I do have faith in us, in fans, in football, in progress. But we still have a way to go, to wade our way through the thorny portal of racial progress.
If you're under 30, you wouldn't know that we only crowned white quarterbacks, sweeping more "athletic" - see "black" - signal callers under the roster's rug, like wide receiver or safety. Doug Williams is still the only man of color to QB his way to a Lombardi Trophy. But look at this year, when RG3, Russell Wison, and Colin Kaepernick have changed the tint and talent of quarterback.
My guess, and my hope, is that the rainbow of brilliance will trickle upward, that the sheer force of on-field prosperity will cut a wide swath for management. And between Mike Tomlin, Ozzie Newsome and Jerry Reese, there's enough data to double down on minority hiring. Then the moral majority can make minority moot.
Is the Rooney Rule doing its job? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…
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