Our nation has come a long way in less than four decades. As recently as the early 1960s, racism was a very real component of American life.
In many respects, the sports world was ahead of the nation, granting black players opportunities on the field of play despite the inequalities that raged in the world that existed beyond the white lines.
Sure, there were exceptions. The Washington Redskins had no minority players until 1962. And the scant opportunities given to blacks at the quarterback position through the '60s, '70s, '80s, and much of the '90s is an unsightly blemish on the NFL's legacy.
Over the past few years, the question of black quarterbacks finally has become a non-issue. This past season, 13 different blacks played one or more games at the quarterback position. The 1999 draft saw three black quarterbacks taken among the first 11 picks. In April, Michael Vick likely will be the first black quarterback ever selected with the first overall choice.
As a result, the game of pro football has made significant progress in the past 40 or so years. Though race-neutrality still hasn't been achieved, we're much closer to a colorblind society now than we ever have been before.
Still, there's a glaring inequity that still exists in the NFL when it comes to matters of race. In 81 seasons, there have been only six black men who ever have served as the head coach of an NFL team: Art Shell, Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes (twice), Tony Dungy, and Terry Robiskie.
Over the entire history of the NFL and the AFL, there have been 397 total head coaches.
Consider the numbers: Six black head coaches, 391 white head coaches. On the surface, things are changing. The Jets hired Herman Edwards, pushing the total positions held by black coaches to a whopping seven. Of course, the other five open positions this year went to white coaches, extending the gap by four more, 396 to seven.
The oddest part about all of this is that most folks actually think the problem, like the issue of black quarterbacks, has improved.
Improved? The hiring of only one black head coach per year won't improve the ratio at all, unless only one position per year is filled.
The numbers couldn't be more clear. In a league increasingly dominated by black players, only a handful of men ever have been entrusted with the leadership of an entire team.
Just a few weeks ago, Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis was considered to be a shoo-in for the coaching job in Buffalo, which would have narrowed the gap to a more respectable 395-8. Not long before Bills' G.M. Tom Donahoe went about the business of picking the team's next coach, he made some stirring remarks about his commitment to racial equality in the coaching ranks.
And then he hired a white man to be his coach, ignoring the mastermind of one of the best defenses in the history of the league.
Frankly, the situation never will improve as long as white owners hire white general managers who interview on their own the candidates for the position of head coach. If, as Tom Donahoe later explained, Tennessee defensive coordinator Gregg Williams gave a far better interview than Marvin Lewis, could it be that the common racial and cultural background shared by Donoahoe and Williams naturally made that interview only seem to be superior?
Even if a person's intentions are pure, human nature makes us more likely to accept and approve of the folks who are more like us. We like to find common ground with strangers, because common ground leads us more quickly to a zone of comfort. If we reach a zone of comfort with a stranger very quickly, we're sure to "like" that stranger better than any others.
Thus, at a minimum, teams who are selecting head coaches must strive to create selection processes that stretch far beyond the inherent (and possibly unconscious) biases and prejudices of the owner or the General Manager.
Absent a protocol that considers the input of others in the organization -- black and white -- the final choices are more likely to perpetuate the ridiculously disproportionate numbers that pro football has generated so far.
Mike Florio is a Clarksburg lawyer who writes a weekly column for NFLTalk.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.