Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL

Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL

Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL

Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL

Synopsis

Two days before Super Bowl XLI in 2007, the game's two opposing head coaches posed with the trophy one of them would hoist after the contest. It was a fairly unremarkable event, except that both coaches were African American--a fact that was as much of a story as the game itself.

As Jeremi Duru reveals in Advancing the Ball, this unique milestone resulted from the work of a determined group of people whose struggles to expand head coaching opportunities for African Americans ultimately changed the National Football League. Since the league's desegregation in 1946, opportunities had grown plentiful for African Americans as players but not as head coaches--the byproduct of the NFL's old-boy network and lingering stereotypes of blacks' intellectual inferiority. Although Major League Baseball and the NBA had, over the years, made progress in this regard, the NFL's head coaches were almost exclusively white up until the mid-1990s.

Advancing the Ballchronicles the campaign of former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman John Wooten to right this wrong and undo decades of discriminatory head coach hiring practices--an initiative that finally bore fruit when he joined forces with attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran. Together with a few allies, the triumvirate galvanized the NFL's African American assistant coaches to stand together for equal opportunity and convinced the league to enact the "Rooney Rule," which stipulates that every team must interview at least one minority candidate when searching for a new head coach. In doing so, they spurred a movement that would substantially impact the NFL and, potentially, the nation.

Featuring an impassioned foreword by Coach Tony Dungy,Advancing the Balloffers an eye-opening, first-hand look at how a few committed individuals initiated a sea change in America's most popular sport and added an extraordinary new chapter to the civil rights story.

Excerpt

Tony Dungy

I CAN STILL REMEMBER the first National Football League game I ever saw in person. The Detroit Lions were playing a preseason game at home against the Cleveland Browns in the late summer of 1964. My dad took me to the game and, although it was nearly fifty years ago and I was only eight years old at the time, there are some things I remember like yesterday. I remember going to the ticket window and my dad deciding to pay four dollars to sit in the upper deck rather than six dollars to sit downstairs. I also remember that although we lived in Michigan and were definitely Lions fans, there was something about the Cleveland Browns that was special to my dad—there was some reason he wanted me to see the Browns.

I knew the Browns had a very good team that season—in fact, they would go on to win the NFL Championship Game (before it was called the Super Bowl). I knew he wanted me to see Jim Brown, the Cleveland running back he considered the best player to ever play the game. And I knew he wanted me to see Paul Warfield, the Browns’ rookie receiver, who had been an All-American at Ohio State. He . . .

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