By David W. Marshall
(Trice Edney Wire) – Sometimes I simply get tired of watching and reading the news. A lot of us do. And while I must stay informed and up to date, a temporary mental break is always welcomed. Sports becomes that outlet for me, particularly professional football.
It is nice to be able to watch and enjoy a game without having to think about the latest political drama or the next act of social injustice. Monday night was different. During the NFL’s Monday Night Football broadcast, it was announced that Jon Gruden resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Racism once again rose its ugly head and now a well-known Super Bowl winning coach is out of football because of it.
For a period of seven years, Gruden sent racist, homophobic, and misogynistic emails to a high-ranking football executive with the Washington Football Team. His written words are evidence of what is truly in his heart. They also reflect his character as a man. It places a human face and name on what we already knew, the fact that racism is part of every American institution. My first thought was to acknowledge that Jon Gruden is not the only one who shares these types of views. He was the one who got caught.
I also wondered about the shock, anger, and disappointment many of his past and current players are expressing. I thought about the basic player / coach relationship. Coaches are more than just sports instructors. They are given a level of respect due to the positions of trust they hold. There are many told and untold stories of how coaches inspire and mold young lives. The foundation of the player / coach relationship is not sports. It is a relationship which is built on the basic trust and respect between two individuals. A coach has no credibility without this foundation.
Good coaches are examples of good character. They can be an athlete’s source of strength and encouragement regarding their physical, mental, social, and academic development. Often, coaches are seen as the father figure missing in the lives of young men and women. The positive influence coaches have on players at the professional level doesn’t compare to the wide-ranging motivation a college coach can have on the student-athlete.
College players fresh out of high school are still in the formative stages of life. Therefore, their future success in sports and life in general can often be traced back to an empathetic college coach. Relationships such as John Thompson / Allen Iverson, John Wooden / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Eddie Robinson / Doug Williams come to mind. While there are many Jon Grudens throughout professional football, the same is true throughout the college ranks.
Chris Doyle was a former University of Iowa strength and conditioning coach who was later hired by the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. He resigned almost immediately after being named assistant coach. It was discovered that Doyle left the Iowa football staff after several current and former players described how the coach promoted a culture of bullying and racism. The Fritz Pollard Alliance released a statement which said, “Doyle’s departure from the University of Iowa reflected a tenure riddled with poor judgement and mistreatment of Black players. His conduct should be as disqualifying for the NFL as it was for the University of Iowa.”
Consider how a culture of mistreatment was allowed by Chris Doyle. Then compare that to the culture former NFL players Deion Sanders (Jackson State) and Eddie George (Tennessee State) are establishing at their respective universities. For those reasons, I’ve become an even bigger believer in the value of HBCU’s. The Jon Gruden and Chris Doyle episodes are not representative of all college and professional coaches and programs. But they do open a certain line of questioning when it comes to the black athlete’s decision concerning their choice of schools and coaches.
A football player coming out of college into the NFL has limited input regarding which professional team he plays for. The team chooses the player rather than the player choosing the team. For a high school athlete and their parents, it is the opposite. The player chooses the team (school). And when he does, he also chooses his coach. With our current social climate, the NFL’s hiring practices are under increased scrutiny. Black students and their parents should also increase their scrutiny when it comes to selecting college coaches. Trust and respect go both ways.