ARE THE AFRICAN AMERICAN NFL PLAYERS OF TODAY DREAMING?

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ARE THE AFRICAN AMERICAN NFL PLAYERS OF TODAY DREAMING?

I normally keep my articles "Raider related". However, with this being the off season, with the draft rapidly approaching, not to mention that very soon it will be time for the players and the owners to sit down and hammer out a new labor agreement, one can't help but wonder what is going on behind closed doors.

Not just in Oakland but around the league, although, just between you and me, I will have to admit that one of the things that I personally love about the Raiders is that the so called "experts" never really know what moves our team will make.

However, at the moment my thoughts don't turn to what decisions are being made but rather who is making them.

As a Black man, and a Raider from birth, I've always felt "free" to dream about what decisions I would make if I were in control of the team. As we all know, the only colors Al Davis is concerned about are Silver and Black (and maybe green!); but what about other teams? 

Moreover, what about the league as a whole?

At the moment I guess you could say I have a "perfect storm" brewing inside of my mind. It's a combination of several elements.

One element is he fact that, not only is this Black History Month, but I also have a niece who shares her birthday with Martin Luther King Jr. It's really hard for me, at this time to not think about the "intangibles" of life. The opportunities that at one time were denied to an entire race of people based solely upon skin color, and the opportunities that are still being denied.

Of course, progress has been made, as no one can say that black NFL players are not being "paid;" however, there has to be something beyond just monetary compensation. Now is not the time for complacency nor is it time to stop dreaming bigger dreams.

I say this because of the other elements that add to my storm, things which taken individually may seem insignificant, like a few drops of rain. However, those few drops of rain added to some others soon creates a downpour.

Here are a few "drops" for you.

There's the fact that Cleveland hired Mike Holmgren as their General Manager without a real search.

Add to that, Washington's "disrespect" of The Rooney Rule (the fine should have been HUGE!), and Roger Goodell getting an extension as Commisioner of the NFL (why?).

More "drops" are the thoughts I have about things that the league and the players association really need to address, things such as what do do with the "old timers", and with at least half of the players in the league being African-American how can they ensure that when their time comes that they can get an opportunity to move beyond the playing field to become general managers, and even possible future owners?

Add those drops to all the chatter about my beloved Raiders, and our need for a general manager, along with the talk of who will eventually take over for Al Davis when the time comes, brings me back full circle to this being Black History Month and my thoughts of real opportunities.

Therefore, I can't help but think about African-American men and their role as "decision makers" within the NFL... or more accurately, their non-role in that capacity.

When one thinks of Black men, management, and the NFL, your mind can't help but be drawn to "The Rooney Rule".

As you might know, the so-called Rooney Rule was designed to help ensure that black men get an opportunity to interview for a head coaching position. The idea was simple: that if enough interviews involving a Black candidate were conducted, a hiring would eventually result. 

My feelings are at this point, in the light of the Washington situation, the Holmgren hiring, and the contract extension for Roger Goodell, are the follwing:

A) Any owner who violates The Rooney Rule should have to pay a one billion dollar fine and lose their first round pick in the subsequent amateur draft (I bet you'll take the rule seriously then!)

and... 

B) The rule should not only apply to teams looking to hire a new head coach but should also apply to teams looking to hire a general manager, and should even be extended to the league office when it conducts its search to find future ownership or a commissioner.

Speaking of the commissioner, my mind wandered to Paul Tagliabue.

Tagliabue sticks out in my mind for a number of reasons, one being how I recall him removing the Super Bowl from Arizona because the state had the audacity to refuse to acknowledge MLK Day (does anyone else remember this?).

At the time, according to my findings, when Paul Tagliabue became commissioner of the NFL, more than half of the players in the league were Black, or "African-American". However, there were no Black head coaches (until Al Davis made his move), nor were there any Black general managers.

Another reason that Tagliabue sticks out in my mind is how he brought Harold Henderson (an African-American) into the league office, and allowed him the freedom to become instrumental in helping to carve out, not one of, but the best labor relationship is professional sports.

Right in step with that, after a decade in office, the league went from zero Black head coaches to three; however, there were still no African-American general managers.

On the topic of the African-American general manager a few things come to mind. The first thing would be the move that the New York Giants recently made.

For those of you who were unaware: The Giants have an internship program in their player personnel department (something other teams should look into, and perhaps something the league office should look into), and as a result of this program the Giants were able to groom and then promote Jerry Reese (an African-American) to the position of Giants' General Manager.

He joins a very short list of men, including Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens and Rick Smith of the Houston Texans. Another black man associated with the role of general manager would be James Harris, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars (although I don't believe General Manager was his "official" title).

However, when I think of the topic of Black men as general manager I still must go back to Tagliabue.

I recall Tagliabue making a statement some time ago that he felt the league needed to work on diversity beyond just the Black quarterback, and beyond Black head coaches. He felt that there didn't seem to be a deep pool to choose from in order for teams to find a "qualified" Black general manager.

This thought came to my mind because of the internship program that the Giants have implemented.

While I may agree with Mr. Tagliabue when he says that the league needs to work on diveristy, I don't believe that there isn't a "deep pool" to choose from. After all there have to be at least a dozen or more black men who were more "qualified" to be a general manager than former Lions' President Matt Millen... but I digress.

The problem is that unlike how it is with the head coaching situation, where teams are required to interview at least one Black man before making a hire, when it comes to the general manager position, teams don't have a similar directive to include a "minority" candidate during their deliberations.

Furthermore, the league itself doesn't have to deal with the topic of "minority candidates" when it conducts its search for potential new owners, (we've got to have a Black guy better than Daniel Snyder, wouldn't you think?), nor does it have to deal with this issue in its search for a commissioner (what's so great about Goodell?)

Even more disturbing is the fact that the NFL is the only major sports league that does not participate in The Racial and Gender Report Card, either by providing data or in the reviewing and corroborating of data. Without this information it is very difficult for the institute to keep accurate track of the racial progress (or lack thereof) that is being made within the NFL as a whole. 

Besides the league not participating in the Racial and Gender Report Card, I found the fact that The Rooney Rule did not extend to the position of general manager to be the most disturbing. The GM issue caught my eye because this position, I believe, directly impacts the oppourtunites for African-American head coaches the most.

"Why," you might ask? Because it is usually the GM who hires the head coach. My thinking is that if the league would hire more Black general managers, they might have more head coaches of color.

As I said at the outset of this letter, soon it will be time for the players and the owners to sit down and work out a new agreement. With more than half of the league being African-American, now is the time for players to unite and look beyond whatever petty differences they may or may not have.

Now would be a good time to look beyond how much each draft pick gets paid, beyond the signing bonus, and beyond the contract extensions. Now it is time to unite and focus on the "intangibles" of life.

It's time for these players to do what they can to look after the generation that paved the way for them. It is now the time for this generation of African-American men to stop begin labeled as "spoiled" and "just out to get their's," and to do what they can to ensure that those who come next have an easier path to walk upon, while also looking out for former players who came before them.

It is time for the NFL to join all the other major sports leagues and participate in the Racial and Gender Report Card. The Rooney Rule has helped in the coaching ranks and I can only imagine that if it were to be further "enforced," other opportunities would undoubtedly open up and then, who knows?

Even if this current group of African-American players themselves have no burning aspirations of becoming general managers or of looking into the possibilities of future ownership, they owe it to those who have come before but could not dare to dream, and they owe it to those who are yet to come, to never stop dreaming...

 

Raider from birth.

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