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Popularly known as “Black Monday,” the unofficial NFL annual tradition of firing underperforming head coaches has already begun across the league. And a Black coach was the first to go.
While there are 32 teams in the National Football League, only 3 were led by Black men during the 2022-23 regular season. That number lessened last night, when veteran coach Lovie Smith was released on Sunday evening after a putrid a 3-13-1 season record with the Houston Texans.
Though the Texans record left much to be desired, Smith’s firing after one season on the job is a reflection of the racist ownership group that, in 2021, also fired David Culley, another Black head coach, after one year with the floundering franchise.
Though an adamant defender of the NFL establishment, mild-mannered and former coach Tony Dungy spoke out against Smith’s abrupt termination.
NFL owners claim to champion equality while refusing to prioritize Black head coaches
Though White head coaches like the Arizona Cardinals Kliff Kingsbury have also been fired today, the overwhelming majority of coaches like Kingsbury are given multiple seasons to establish a unifying culture while bringing in new players and staff to actualize their philosophy.
Yet for Black head coaches, even with strong teams and winning records, there is often nothing they can do to outperform people who do not want them in positions of power in the first place.
Football is clear as Black and White
FOX’s Jay Glazer reported that Jim Harbaugh (White) has already talked to Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper about taking over the Charlotte-based team. Glazer also reported that they will interview former Colts head coach Frank Reich (White).
This is in spite of the interim head coach and Charlotte native Steve Wilks, who revived the Panthers 2022 season after a horrific start by now-fired coach Matt Rhule (White). However, Steve Wilks is Black. And in the NFL, that’s just not good enough.
Additionally, CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson reports that Jim Caldwell, also Black, will be interviewing with the team today. However, multiple Black coaches report that the interview process is generally used for teams to check a box without actual intent to hire them.
NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reports the Denver Broncos are also set to interview Harbaugh this week and that they have requested permission to interview Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (White).
Multiple reports, including this one from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, state that the Broncos have additionally received permission from the New Orleans Saints to interview Sean Payton (White) for their head-coaching vacancy.
Though annual head coach firings are routine in the NFL, the coaches rumored to ascend the open slots are often reflective of the those who have always been in positions of power, regardless of qualifications.
Black head coaches like Steve Wilks and Lovie Smith are often used as pawns or “bridge coaches,” hired with long term contracts on paper, yet regularly fired well before their contracts expire.
It is not as if Black coaches do not have the experience and know-how. However, they are routinely hired to oversee the worst NFL franchises with mediocre-at-best talent taking the field.
The NFL, from its owners to the referees, historically punish Black men.
According to Andscape, an examination of data on unsportsmanlike conduct penalties found that since 2018, 19 out of 21 — 90% — of the flags for celebrating have gone against Black players, who along with biracial athletes make up 68% of NFL rosters. Only 9% of the calls were on White players, who are 25% of the league.
In 2012, a research paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology concluded that most penalties for celebrations after touchdowns were against Black players.
That study of two years’ worth of flags from 2010-2011 found that 92% of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after touchdowns were levied against Black players, according to Erika V. Hall, a doctoral student at the time who co-authored the paper with a colleague from Northwestern University.
As the league’s 32 teams plan for a playoff push or the direction for the upcoming 2023 season, Black coaches are likely to get overlooked and undervalued once again in a league that purports to value equality for all.