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The Tony and Lovie show

By Robert Newby, Ph.D. Professor Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work Guest Column

Over the next week or so there is going to be a whole lot of talk about a very significant first - not one but two African-Americans coaching the Super Bowl! As a first, it follows other firsts. My parents always told me that in order for "us" to get ahead, we had to be twice as good. In that regard, nothing has changed. Not only are blacks now coaching in the NFL, they are at the top of the game. Until recently, NFL coaching has been an almost exclusive white men's club. The two coaches facing each other for this event make history times two. Of the eight black coaches in the NFL, seven have winning records. It shows that given the opportunity, blacks do excel.

Given the assumptions on the part of white nationalist America, blacks have to be exceptional. I do not mean that to be a racial chauvinist, but to point out the "white" rule for acceptance. For blacks to get in, they must be better. Jackie Robinson is a prime example. In Jackie's rookie year, he was Rookie of the Year. The next year he was the Most Valuable Player in all of baseball. Those that followed were also stars, not journeymen. Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith are better than other coaches this year. They are in a class with few other coaches in the history of the game.

The Super Bowl is without question the most significant cultural holiday ritual on the world stage. The idea of white superiority will be dealt another blow. It will be important not only that another barrier will now be broken, but that the lie of whites being superior and blacks "unqualified" will be once again have been discredited, at least to some degree. All of America and the world will be confronted with this first in that it took until the 21st century to accomplish.

This "first" provides weighty evidence of the benefits of affirmative action. These coaches would not be coaches and would not be doing what they are doing without the league being embarrassed to stop its discrimination. The absence of black head coaches in a profession that is overwhelmingly black became an absurdity. Consequently, the league implemented a structured affirmative action program - "The Rooney Rule" - in which teams were required to interview at least one minority applicant when coaching vacancies are being filled. Affirmative action has revealed some talent that would otherwise have been ignored.

An irony is that the team with the worst record over the past five years has been the Detroit Lions. A few years ago, when filling one of these vacancies, they were fined $250,000 for not interviewing a minority candidate. Their coach of choice was fired the next season in the middle of the season, as they had done with others before.

What should be the lesson learned? The issue is not about quotas or "racial preferences," but opportunity.