Imagine a scenario for a second. A middle-aged man signs a five-year, $13 million contract to coach 16 games of football per year. In said five years, he and his team develop a reputation for choking under pressure, despite enormous talent. At the end of that original contract, the coach makes it all the way to the end of the playoffs, and his team – led by a pack of future Hall-of-Famers – wins a game plagued by fumbles, interceptions and poor fundamentals against another team led by a mediocre-at-best quarterback. Would you call this a historic moment in football coaching history? I wouldn’t.
However, remember that Tony Dungy is black, and the whole story changes. Not only is it historic moment in football coaching history, but also in American history and civil rights! Did you see the Coke commercial during the game? Every benchmark in black history, from the Tuskegee Airmen to Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King Jr. has been leading up to Super Bowl XLI! “Coca-Cola celebrates Black History, especially today.” Stop the presses; this is obviously what the civil rights leaders fought for: a multi-millionaire winning a football game.
Oh, and what about that Frito-Lay ad in the third quarter? All the black families are sitting around their televisions, listening to the voice on the television lecture them on how great it is to watch a black man win a football game. “We’ve got more than a game here. We’ve got history.” Does no one realize it’s just a game? They’re playing football. Dungy signed a contract to win football games. There was no fanfare when that happened, but now that he wins the big one – as he is paid millions of dollars to do – we all collectively lose our minds. “Not just getting here, but what getting here represents.” What does “getting here” represent? No one has explained that. What does a black football coach winning the Super Bowl achieve? Are blacks suddenly more human now that Dungy has a ring? Is this the culmination of black achievement in the United States? Can we stop celebrating meaningful black history?
Don’t get me wrong. Lovie Smith and Dungy are great football coaches, and I watched the Super Bowl Sunday night on the edge of my seat. It was an exciting football game – as far as non-Eagles games go. My only concern is, why all the uproar about Dungy? He won a football game. It isn’t exactly like he solved the plight of the urban poor or bridged the earnings gap between whites and blacks – blacks of all educational backgrounds earn, on average, less than their white counterparts. Dungy is a great guy, but his win isn’t a civil rights milestone.
The reason we want to feel good about black coaches in the NFL is because we, as fans, want to justify the way the NFL works. I won’t make any judgment calls about the owners, but tell me how many black coaches there are in the 32-team league. If you said seven, you guessed one too many. In fact, the NFL instituted a rule in 2002, the so-called Rooney Rule – named for the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who coincidentally just hired a black coach, Mike Tomlin – that says each owner is required to interview at least one minority candidate for a head coaching job. That’s pathetic.
So, why is this white boy – so white he’s clear – extolling the uselessness of Tony Dungy’s color? Doesn’t that seem a little … what’s the word? Ignorant? Hypocritical? Odd? Senseless? Maybe. But the problem with racial equality in this country isn’t just about civil and political rights. It’s also about economic rights. Blacks at all levels of society earn less than whites for the same amount of work. There’s something inherently wrong with that. And Dungy winning the Super Bowl didn’t change that. Just in case you needed to be reminded, the Super Bowl did not change the country; it was entertainment. The game was great, but we aren’t exactly turning a corner in racial equality. Jackie Robinson breaking the race barrier was something, but already over 70 percent of the players in the NFL are black. So Dungy’s Super Bowl ring is a nice little eccentricity, but not really that historically staggering in the struggle for civil rights and integration.
And I have a little parting tidbit for all of you civil rights-minded people out there. Dungy actually supports a group called the Indiana Family Institute and does fundraisers for them. They are one of those Christian-affiliated groups that vehemently oppose gay civil rights – from marriage all the way down to adoption. Does anyone else find it ironic that we are celebrating this man as a paragon of civil rights and integration now?
Tom Nardi is a junior political science major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]