FRITZ POLLARD, BRIAN FLORES, COLIN KAEPERNICK AND THE NFL

In 1921, Fritz Pollard was the first Black NFL head coach.

That was over 100 years ago.

Today there are 2.

Two.

Two.

And the number has risen to two only because Lovie Smith was recently hired by the Houston Texans (February 7).

[Mike McDaniel, hired as the new Dolphins’ head coach the day before, is biracial.]

Otherwise there would be but one, the always estimable and now venerable Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers–he of zero losing seasons in 15 as their head coach, with a title in Super Bowl XLIII to his credit (at age 36).

He was the youngest head coach to win it all, until Sean McVay engineered the Rams to victory last Sunday (February 13).

McVay was a newly-minted 36–(DOB: 01/24/1986).

Younger than Tomlin at the time, by a matter of months.

NFL ownership comprises 30 billionaires, two of whom are people of color– Korean-born Kim Pegula of the Buffalo Bills, and Pakistani-American Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The league today is represented by players of color to the tune of 65–70%.

Does this look or sound right to you?

Didn’t think so.

Kudos to Ron Rivera, Robert Saleh and newly-hired McDaniel.

And hopefully soon to Eric Bieniemy.

Also to Brian Flores, certainly.

For vastly different reasons…

The NFL is a money-making machine of the highest order.

Commissioner Goodell, working for the owners, earned nearly $64 million per annum the last two years.

His pay of $127.8 million for fiscal years 2019–20 and 2020–21 is a matter of record, and never mind that it’s mostly made up of bonuses.

Or that more than 90% of his earnings are bonus-laden.

That’s the point.

Money is being printed here.

But not ethics or morals.

The Rooney Rule, while perhaps well-intended, continues to be a sham.

Until perhaps it won’t be; we can only hope.

Dragging the Rooney name through the mud with this ongoing charade is wrong, on so many levels.

But believe it, it’s not wholly about that.

It’s more about widespread, abject and blatant discrimination–period.

Brian Flores, who is suing the league and three individual franchises who granted him shallow and hollow head coaching interviews in order to be in compliance–and thereby wittingly gave him short shrift in the most embarrassing fashion–was royally screwed.

And by filing these suits, he knows his NFL head coaching career is kaput.

For now.

Over.

Done.

He’s 40.

He’ll be in demand elsewhere at some point, but that’s not it.

[Sidebar: On February 19, the Rooney Steelers hired Brian Flores as a senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach.]

The NFL was never, and is not presently conceived, to elevate Blacks or people of color to positions of real–true–authority.

As journalist Jemele Hill aptly noted, the league has a history of “doing things only when absolutely forced.”

Spot-on.

Apparently, the league has not felt “forced” to act with any sense of urgency with respect to the Colin Kaepernick case.

Kaepernick became a free agent in March 2017 after opting out of his 49ers contract, and has not played in the NFL since.

Black-balled.

Punished for kneeling, rather than standing, during the playing of the national anthem–an expression of his feelings about racial injustice and police brutality in our country.

The NFL has hired former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the country’s first Black woman attorney general, as part of its defense counsel in the lawsuit, the league announced.

“Organizational scholars have consistently shown,” remarked Texas A&M University professor George B. Cunningham “that people are most likely to hire others who are of the same race.”

Cunningham’s research focuses largely on diversity and inclusion in sport and physical activity.

“Until structural change occurs, the pattern will continue.”

Hill, not known for standing back–or pat–sheds further light.

Citing the naivete of the Rooney Rule as the great panacea, she expounded.

“It has to be more than just a rule.

It has to be a mentality, an attitude, an approach.

It also has to be intentionality among those with the most power.

They have to be willing to do things that will topple the system that’s been built.

And the reality is that–and it sounds harsh to say out loud–there are more people invested in racism than anti-racism.

As long as there are more who are invested in racism, we’re always going to get stops and starts when it comes to progress.”

Forget about change bearing fruit immediately.

It won’t.

But staying the course and exposing injustice represent steps taken in the right direction.

And that’s what progress demands.

One foot after the other.

Forever.

As with all else, we’ll see.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in February 2022.]

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Peter J. Kaplan

Peter J. Kaplan

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