I'm an avid sports fan, sometimes borderline obsessive. Football has always been at the top of the heap closely followed by track and field, tennis, and a whole bunch that my fingers would get cramped typing out.
The NFL has had a major campaign to get black coaches involved in the interviewing process as a result of criticism from prominent members of the black community. The result has been the hiring and consideration of many qualified black candidates that weren't receiving those opportunities in the past. You had qualified assistant coaches that never got their chances to shine, contrary to the normal career track.
This year's Super Bowl will represent the first time that two teams coached by minority head coaches will square off. In fact it is the first time that black coaches have ever led a team to the Super Bowl.
This represents a milestone in sports in general. It shows that if you give qualified people the chance they can excel, therefore race should not be used as a barrier to entry. The efforts of the NFL weren't quite an affirmative action situation either. The league requires teams to interview at least one minority coaching candidate per opening. Most of the successful black coaches paid their dues as assistants before they were given the chance. You also had commentators (like Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason) that made the fact that certain coaches weren't being interviewed an issue that was worthy of attention.
Coaches like Art Shell and Dennis Green had moderate success (with the Raiders and Vikings). They were the pioneers. A decade later you see Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy leading their teams to football's promised land. Marvin Lewis has turned around a perennial struggling franchise in the Cincinnati Bengals. Kansas City is coached by former Jets head coach Herman Edwards. The Minnesota Vikings just hired a black coach as well.
This is a measurement of how far this country has come in regards to race relations. When I first started watching football there was the old saying that you could have an all black team except you'd need a white quarterback and a white kicker/punter. Take a look at the legion of black quarterbacks that have changed the image of what a quarterback should be. They might not fit traditional views of what a quarterback should be (Drew Brees doesn't either), but you can still ride them to success.
I'm so proud, if you can't tell. I will be routing for the Bears, however, because I hate the Indianapolis Colts with the fire of a thousand suns. Their coach, however, is cool in my book. He turned around a losing team in Tampa Bay, got them close to the pinnacle and was fired for not getting them to the Super Bowl. He experienced similar frustrations with the aforementioned hated Colts, but should have given himself some serious job security. Whether you like them or not you must give him credit for making that team one of the strongest teams in football (during the regular season--with the exception of this year).
I'll leave you with an excerpt from the definition of coach:
one who instructs or trains a performer or a team of performers; specifically : one who instructs players in the fundamentals of a competitive sport and directs team strategy
It's a leadership position, and we all know that America is more preoccupied with leaders than it is with those that receive directions (sorry followers didn't seem right in this context). Individuals that strategize and take the heat for their decisions and/or reap the rewards of the success from their planning are definitely worthy of applause/ridicule. It takes a lot to put yourself in those types of positions, because of the scrutiny that will follow you. If you're the first to do it or amongst the first--you have even more pressure, because if you fail the naysayers will say I told you so: women shouldn't referee male sports (NBA), blacks shouldn't play tennis/golf, a woman should not enter male sports (Michele Wie). The list goes on and on. Some battles aren't so much about race or gender, but about acceptance. Tear the barriers down, break those glass ceilings, and enjoy your moment in the sunshine!
If this post has tickled your fancy, here's an interesting article that speaks about the gap between minority coaches at the NCAA level compared to the NFL.
NFL leads colleges in promoting minority coaches