Let This Be the Last of the ‘First’

It is understandable that groups of individuals take pride when a member of their group crashes through some barrier – racial, ethnic, religious, sexual or whatever – previously imposed on them on the basis of prejudice against their “group.” One can also understand why society as a whole takes pleasure in such accomplishments – they are significant indicators of reduced societal discrimination as well as progress among those within such groups to participate at all levels of American life.

Given the era in which he lived and the discrimination against black people in major league baseball, Jackie Robinson became an important “first” when he was signed by Branch Rickey to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Because black people have traditionally been appointed to lesser cabinet-level positions, such as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development or Secretary of Education, the appointment of Colin Powell to the non-traditional position of Secretary of State was a very noteworthy “first,” despite the fact that racial discrimination against black people had receded to a very low level by the year 2000. President George W. Bush’s appointment of Powell confirmed there is no position within the federal government – including that of Secretary of State – that will be denied to black people.

The dominance of Tiger Woods in the sport of golfing was an important “first” because of the discrimination against “minorities” in country clubs. Woods’s performances confirmed that individual excellence transcends historical prejudice even in previously exclusive places such as country clubs.

There comes a time, however, when it is no longer meaningful or newsworthy to comment on the fact that someone is the “first black” or the “first female” or the first whatever to achieve a certain status in a nation that has become as pluralistic as American society. One would think that with all of the visible signs of racial and gender progress within the past two decades, our nation would be over this “first black” or “first female” thing. Often, however, those who keep track of this stuff do so merely to further their own agendas, which is often to maintain consciousness about identity politics.

A recent example of this “first” racial stuff can be found in the clamor about the two first black head coaches – Lovie Smith, of the Chicago Bears, and Tony Dungy, of the Indianapolis Colts – in this year’s Super Bowl. The annoying discussion from the “diversity” industry focused on the fact that the National Football League (NFL) has what is called the “Rooney Rule,” named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who is also the chairman of the league’s diversity committee. This “rule” requires teams seeking to hire a head coach to interview at least one “minority” candidate before making a decision.

Implemented in 2002, the Rooney Rule is regarded by many race advocates as a form of “affirmative action” to achieve racial “parity” among NFL head coaches, of which there are 32. The reasoning goes that team owners are either too racist to appoint a minority or too blind to know that sufficient talent lurks among assistant coaches to even interview them without being required to do so.

The Rooney Rule came about because the late Johnnie Cochran and another lawyer, Cyrus Mehri, threatened to bring a lawsuit against the NFL for racial discrimination in their hiring practices. The threatened lawsuit prompted the NFL to implement the so-called Rooney Rule. Because of this history, proponents of race-based “affirmative action” consider the Rooney Rule to be one of their most significant accomplishments – and they widely tout it, particularly as affirmative action comes under increasing attack

The Rooney Rule enables race advocates to assign credit to affirmative action for the fact that Dungy and Smith became head coaches and eventually wound up as the “first black” head coaches in the Super Bowl.

One would do well to consider that player personnel in the NFL has reached the level of nearly 75% black in any given year. Football is enormously popular among the American people and the Super Bowl commands the attention of most beer-drinking, chicken wing eaters throughout the land. This is big business. Thus, any team owner that wants to survive has little choice but to hire the best personnel at all levels of his or her enterprise.

Dungy was the prior head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He gave Smith his first job as an assistant coach and half of Dungy’s Colts coaching staff consists of “minorities.” All of this is a function of the circumstances surrounding professional football as a business; it has little to do with affirmative action. Dungy and Smith’s skin color should be irrelevant, although a few affirmative action proponents have publicly stated that race should be a primary factor in the hiring of head coaches until their ranks are at parity with the racial background of NFL player personnel, which is obviously a silly concept.

While they were taking note of the fact that Dungy became the “first black” to win a Super Bowl, I didn’t hear too many affirmative action proponents observe that Smith became the “first black” to lose a Super Bowl game.

The overwhelming majority of Americans couldn’t care less about the skin color or “race” of the guy prancing back and forth on the sidelines of the football field, especially when all they typically see is his back, and even then through snow and rain. They are more preoccupied with the commercials and what Janet Jackson (a black woman) is wearing (or not). I think most of us have had enough of this “first black” and first whatever stuff.