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Monday, January 29, 2007

Oakland Tribune's Monte Poole On The Color Barrier In The NFL and In Sports

Color barrier: Sports still has long way to go
Column by Monte Poole
Article Last Updated: 01/29/2007 02:37:52 AM PST

WELCOME TO Super Bowl Week, where football fans will be inundated with stories about Indianapolis and Chicago, about the various Colts and Bears, about fans and skin color.

We'll see and hear plenty about these, most assuredly the last one.

Because the skin color of Colts coach Tony Dungy is a relative match with that of Bears coach Lovie Smith. This is news not simply because neither is white but because neither is white and both have nurtured and coaxed their teams into the NFL's championship game.

Their incidental involvement in this bit of history is undeniable. The most pleasant aspect of this, though, should be the flattening of another color barrier.

Another one down, a hundred or so still standing.

If this is an example of sport leading the way, providingmembers of a race previously considered unfit with the opportunity to prove otherwise, it should be noted that sport has slowed its pace toward achieving a truly equal society.
Ownership, the most significant and aristocratic level of sports, has been excruciatingly slow to accept non-whites.
The power brokers remain overwhelmingly white — whiter than the much-publicized head-coaching ranks in NCAA Division I-A football. The owner/managing-partner level among the 92 teams in our three major sports — MLB, NBA, NFL — is roughly 2 percent Asian, black or Latino.

To be more distinct, a total of two.

Bob Johnson in 2003 bought the rights to the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, becoming the second majority owner of a major sports team; Peter Bynoe and Bertram Lee bought the Denver Nuggets in 1989, lasting three years as owners.
Johnson's purchase preceded by four months that of Artie Moreno buying the Anaheim Angels, making him the first Latino to become majority owner.
Though Hiroshi Yamauchi, the Japanese billionaire and former majority owner of the Seattle Mariners, preceded Johnson and Moreno, he sold his shares a few years ago.
Several individuals of color own minority stakes, including Magic Johnson with the Lakers, but only Bob Johnson and Moreno top the organizational chart.
Meanwhile, Reggie Jackson, urged by commissioner Bud Selig to be patient in his quest for baseball ownership, has nothing to show after nearly a decade. Joe Morgan's attempt to become president-owner of the A's, with a group led by Bob Piccinini, was rebuffed. Alabama attorney and businessman Donald Watkins, with a reported worth in excess of $1 billion, was denied in his effort to buy the Minnesota Twins in 2001 because MLB was uncomfortable with his finances.
Former Duke player Brian Davis failed in a recent bid to lead a group seeking to purchase the Memphis Grizzlies. Reggie Fowler's attempt to become majority owner of the Minnesota Vikings died amid questions about his financial wherewithal; he now is a minority owner of the team under Zygi Wilf, who received unanimous approval.
This is not so much an allegation of racism as a recitation of facts, thereby highlighting the color barriers still in existence in sport.
So many have come down, from the playing fields to the executive offices, from merely reaching the position to actually winning championships. This is another. Dungy or Smith will become the first black head coach to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
If the definitive integration moment in this country is Jackie Robinson's entrance into the Major Leagues in 1947, the pivotal moments of measured progress came with the promotion of Bill Russell to head coach of the NBA Boston Celtics in 1966, the hiring of Frank Robinson as manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975 and the promotion of Art Shell to head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989.
Seeing these men earn authority and experience success opened minds and softened hearts. It suggested that, lo and behold, fitness for a specific job had much less to do with skin color than with character and intellect.
Had these moves not been made on the social gameboard, would someone like Barack Obama be in position to think about running for president?
But Obama, though identified as a political star, still can't consider himself a favorite. If sports is his barometer, he is a decided underdog.
While the sight of Dungy on one sideline and Smith on the other surely represents a measure of progress, it also reiterates the statement regarding character and intellect.
Which might be enough to convince an owner or athletic director to consider what he or she might not have in the past: That a black coach not only can win a championship but also hold his own in the upper levels of society.
As sport pats itself on the back this week, reminding everyone of how far it has come, let's not kid ourselves. It still has a ways to go. We all do.
Monte Poole can be reached at (510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at


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