Tuesday, January 30, 2007
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
Super Bowl equality still eludes many
BY JESSE JACKSON
Super Bowl Sunday. It’s an American celebration, spectacle and annual ritual. The Chicago Bears pitted against the Indianapolis Colts -- two great teams, tested and victorious, head to head. Already the arguments have started. The Colts offense against the ferocious Bears defense. The Bears running game against the Colts passing wizardry. Manning against Urlacher. Dungy against Smith.
Tony Dungy facing off against Lovie Smith? That’s right, this Super Bowl will feature an extraordinary milestone -- two African-American head coaches leading their teams into the biggest show of all. Sixty years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in sports; 42 years after the right to vote. Our progress is now on display at the Super Bowl, a great American moment.
Both are men of dignity and unblemished character. Both have demonstrated the skill and will it takes to mold strong and independent athletes into a great team -- in an age of free agents, multimillion-dollar contracts, and 24/7 media. And both have understood what this moment means; they are close friends, who have rooted for one another to get to the final stage.
Coming from Chicago, I’ve followed Lovie Smith and Da Bears through the season’s trials and triumphs. But I pay particular tribute to Tony Dungy of the Colts. He is, in many ways, the godfather of African-American football coaches. He faced the closed doors. He dealt with the disappointments of being passed over without consideration. He knows how hard the struggle was to get to this moment. And strikingly, of the six African-American head professional football coaches, three others came from Tony Dungy’s Tampa Bay team: Herman Edwards, Mike Tomlin and Lovie Smith himself.
When the whistle blows on the Super Bowl, the game will be played on a level playing field. The rules will be the same for all. Two great teams will line up, the players will face off head to head, and -- at the end -- however great the disappointments or thrills, all will accept the outcome. The fans will be focused on uniform color, not skin color. They'll cheer the team from their region, not the one from their race. In some way, this is Dr. Martin Luther King’s view of the Promised Land. Level playing fields, equal rules, equal opportunity.
As we celebrate the success of these two teams and these remarkable coaches, let us not ignore the struggle. It was not so long ago that Dungy and Smith would not even be considered as head coaches. That blacks were not “qualified” to be quarterbacks. That the doors were closed to the playing field, the voting booth, the restaurant counter.
Dave Duerson, formerly all-pro defensive back for the Chicago Bears and now a businessman and scholar, is chairman of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Sports Commission, and Dextor Clinkscale, a former Dallas Cowboy, is now our sports director. We work closely with the Black Coaches Association, executive director, Floyd Keith, and with Dr. Richard Lapchick, documenting college graduation rates. One result has been the passage of what are called the Rooney Rules, mandating that an African-American coach must be considered for every opening.
That same struggle has taken place across our society. Too often, Americans celebrate the change when it succeeds, but slight or scorn the struggle needed to make that change take place.
We cannot afford to be complacent, because we still have a long way to go to make the playing field even for all Americans. Sunday's football game is an occasion of joy, but it’s not the end of the struggle. Too many children in this affluent nation are born to poverty, deprived of adequate nutrition, health care and early education. They are raised on mean streets, and go to crowded schools not ready to learn. They are expected to pass the same hurdles, but with shackles on their feet. We need to create equal opportunity from the start.
So on Super Bowl Sunday, as we celebrate the success of Dungy and Smith, let us commit ourselves to the continued struggle that made this success possible. And … go Bears.