Why Black Coaches and Executives Are Still Second-Class Citizens

By Lyons, Douglas C. | Ebony, August 1992 | Go to article overview

Why Black Coaches and Executives Are Still Second-Class Citizens


Lyons, Douglas C., Ebony


IN the past 45 years, Blacks have gone from zero to square two as coaches, but are still stuck in square one in the front office and the owner's circle. Twenty-six years after Bill Russell be- came major sports' first Black coach in the modern era, Blacks are still more likely to run a play than a team.

For African-American head coaches in the three major sports, two seems to be the magic number. Only two (three if you count the Montreal Expos' Felipe Alou, the first Dominican to manage in the majors) of baseball's 26 teams have Black managers. The same is true in pro football where Blacks hold only two of the league's 28 coaching positions. Even in the NBA, Blacks only comprise two of the 27 head coaching slots.

Talented Black coaches are also having problems latching on at the college level. There are no Black head football coaches at the NCAA Division 1 level, and stir too few coaching basketball at major predominantly White colleges and universities, according to Rudy Washington, Drake University's head basketball coach and a founder of the Black Coaches Association.

Blacks haven't fared much better in obtaining influential front office positions, and owning a professional team still seems like a far distant dream.

Bill White made history in 1989 when he was named president of baseball's National League, and four Black executives in pro basketball hold the tide of general manager. But only one Black executive owns a significant minority share in a major sports team.

Paradoxically, boxing is the one sport in which a Black man exercises undeniable power and influence promoter Don King.

Anybody who wakes up in the morning and tries to act like this is a colorblind society--and a lot people still do this--is fooling himself" says Clifford Alexander Jr., former secretary of the Army and now a consultant for major league baseball. "[Racism's] certainly been true in my lifetime and dating back long before Jackie Robinson first came into baseball."

The notion that Blacks lack "the neccesities" to run teams would have astounded the pioneer sports entrepreneurs. Football's Frederick (Fritz) Pollard made history in 1923 as the game's first Black head coach. He led the Hammond (Indiana) Pros for two years. The next Black head coach wouldn't come for another 65 years when the las Angeles Raiders named Art Shell as its coach in 1990. Two years later, the Minnesota Vikings made Dennis Green, a coach at Stanford University and a longtime former assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, its new coach.

"People have asked me why haven't other organizations done this?" Shell says. I can't speak for them, but the guy I work for [Raiders president of the general partner Al Davis] is interested in doing whatever it takes to win. He pulled the trigger. A lot of them [NFL owners] had the opportunity to do it, but didn't do it. "

Pro football has also added three Black coaches to the game's all-important "stepping-stone positions" of offensive and defensive coordinators. Terry Robiskie is the Raiders' offensive coordinator. Tony Dungy will patrol the sidelines this year, calling plays as the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. Interestingly enough, the Green Bay Packers have two coordinators, Ray Rhodes for the defense and Sherman lewis for the offense.

In basketball, Black coaches made their debut in 1966 when the Celtics named Russell as its coach. At one time, the number of Black head coaches grew to six, setting the league apart as a model for Black coaching talent.

But within recent years, the league has taken a big step backwards. Some players and officials say the reaction in the NBA was a direct result of the negative racial climate created by the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Of the 24 head coaches hired since 1990, not one is Black, and the NBA now has only two Black head coaches, Lenny Wilkens of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Wes Unseld of the Washington Bullets. …

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