Black power can end coaching inequity
By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

With all due respect to Johnnie Cochran, Cyrus Mehri, Floyd Keith and all the other well-intentioned men trying to shame, brow-beat and beg white folks into giving brothers big-time head football coaching opportunities, the recent publicity-friendly efforts are misguided, outdated and totally ignore the fact that black people, just like every other ethnic group in this country, control their own destiny.

Johnnie Cochran
Johnnie Cochran is trying to get the NFL's attention through litigation.
If Cochran, Mehri and Keith are serious about creating job opportunities for black coaches, then they're meeting with, threatening, shaming and begging the wrong group of people.

You want black coaches? Meet with Gene Upshaw and the NFL Players Association, a group that is about 65 percent black, and demand they stand up for fair hiring practices.

You want black college coaches? Demand former black players get involved with their school's alumni groups and influence the hiring practices.

We, black people, have a nasty, destructive habit of not holding ourselves accountable for anything. We have a problem, we beg white people to solve it. Not enough black coaches in the NFL? Well, let's march down to Tagliabue's office and see what he's going to do about it. That's easy. It requires very little of us, besides a nice suit and an angry gaze for TV cameras.

Never mind the fact that Upshaw, Marshall Faulk, Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Jerry Rice, Mike Strahan, Donovan McNabb, Edgerrin James, Charles Woodson, Ricky Williams, Priest Holmes, Warren Sapp, Terrell Owens and Co. have just as much, if not more, influence over the league than does Tagliabue.

Granted, professional football players aren't as powerful as NBA and MLB players (and this might be a reason why the NFL lags behind the other leagues when it comes to minority hiring). NFL players don't have the same kind of guaranteed contracts as their peers. But as NFL signing bonuses get bigger and bigger, so does the power of its players.

Gene Upshaw
NFL union chief Gene Upshaw could be a major force for change.
If the players' association wanted the league to treat African-American coaching candidates fairly, the problem would be solved tomorrow. You think the Eagles will bench or waive McNabb if he blasts the league for its hiring practices? Are the Vikings going to cut Moss and eat his $18 million signing bonus? What does Rice have to lose?

But I guess no one wants to pressure Upshaw and friends to be leaders on an issue that directly impacts black people. Martin and Malcolm got assassinated, a few of us purchased big houses in the 'burbs and started socializing with whomever we wanted, and I guess we lost the taste for standing up for ourselves.

It strikes me as preposterously hypocritical that Cochran, Mehri and Keith could meet with Tagliabue and demand Tags and NFL owners address an explosive racial issue that the league's black power structure won't touch.

I would've told 'em to get off their knees begging and get out of my office. You can bring me all the deplorable hiring stats you want, if I'm running the league, there are two stats that tell me the status quo is just fine -- television ratings and the fact that Bryan Cox is the only NFL player I can remember who had enough self-pride to publicly criticize the league for its coaching and front-office hiring practices.

If the squeaky wheel gets the oil, the NFL is several thousand miles away from a lube job when it comes to black coaches. The only people squeaking are Cochran, black sportswriters, retired players who can't get a job and never complained about anything during their playing days beyond the number of zeroes on their contract, and a few liberal do-gooders on a guilt trip.

Marshall Faulk
Think San Diego State would listen to Marshall Faulk? You bet.
NFL owners will continue to pat these guys on the head and hire whomever the hell they want until Upshaw and Co. flex their considerable muscle. The same is true at the college level. Black NFL players and former college players should take the lead on this issue, too.

Perhaps instead of starting one of those image-friendly, substance-less, tax-write-off charity organizations with a catchy, cute name, a few of these players could be directed toward involving themselves with their school's alumni or booster clubs. Those groups pretty much tell the athletic director whom to hire.

Hypothetically, do you think Faulk could have a big influence on picking the next coach at San Diego State? How 'bout Cox at Western Illinois? Or my friend Blaine Bishop at Ball State?

Most schools stay in contact with their big stars, the guys who made it to the League. But oftentimes a school's former black players lose contact with the athletics department and don't stay involved with the program. Half the players in Division I are African-American. If 10 percent of those players stayed connected to the athletics department after their careers, you'd be amazed at how quickly the coaching landscape would change.

The inequity in hiring football coaches won't be changed by outsiders making threats and begging. It will change when the game's black participants stand up like men and force the system to do what's right.

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for the Kansas City Star (, the host of a morning-drive talk show, "Jason Whitlock's Neighborhood" on Sports Radio 810 WHB ( and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of The Sports Reporters. He can be reached at



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