In the days following Barack Obama’s historic election, a friend mused that the 44th President of the United States might be the “last first,” that in breaking what might be described as the ultimate color barrier, Obama might represent the last person of color whose ascension to a lofty position of power is cause for recognition, if not celebration.
In 2007, you no doubt recall, we embraced Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy and Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith for being the first African-American NFL coaches to lead their teams to the Super Bowl. Then after Dungy’s Colts won Super Bowl XLI, black Americans, including myself, got all misty-eyed at the sight of him being handed the Lombardi Trophy, standing in a place no black man had stood before. Seems kinda trivial now, doesn’t it?
Today, not too many years after the hiring of a black or Latino coach prompted shouts of “hallelujah” in minority circles, black and Latino head coaches are hired (and fired) in every pro sport, and in college basketball, without much fanfare. There was barely even a recognition of Don Wakamatsu’s historic hiring last week as the manager of the Seattle Mariners, making him the first Asian-American manager in a sport now profoundly infused with Asian talent.
Call it just another example of the Obama Effect. Now that we have a black president, why not hire a (fill in the minority) coach, GM, team president, etc.?
Don’t be fooled. Don’t be lulled into thinking The Dream is wholly fulfilled, or that we’ve reached the Mountaintop. It’s not Game Over. Not by any means. There are still barriers to conquer, especially in sports.
Who knew we’d have a black president before we had a sports commissioner who was not a white man?
Who knew we’d have a black president before one of the major sports networks – broadcast or cable – was run by someone other than a white man?
Who knew we’d have a black president before a national sports magazine was run by someone other than a white man?
Who knew we’d have a black president before we could stop wondering why it’s so hard for colleges to hire black men to coach their football programs?
Who knew we’d have a black president before American tennis could nurture another Arthur Ashe?
Who knew we’d have a black president before black athletes stopped being judged by the bad behavior of their most trifling peers?
Who knew we’d have a black president before NASCAR got it at all?
Who knew we’d have a black president before the NHL would figure out how to market its 20 black players, especially to kids who’ve never held a hockey stick or attended a game?
Who knew we’d have a black president before we no longer needed the Black Coaches Association?
Few if any people can claim with all honesty they thought they would see America elect an African-American president in their lifetime. Well, we have.
Now sports must get back to breaking its own barriers once again.
Associated Press photo