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Dennis Green, the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, does not need statistics to tell him that the National Football League is a whites-only club when it comes to hiring head coaches. Green is one of only three black head coaches in the entire 30-team league, even though more than 60 percent of the 1,500 players in the NFL are African-American. He sits on the NFL's powerful Competition Committee and has participated in recent meetings with commissioner Paul Tagliabue to discuss the inequities in teams' hiring practices. And, he says, until he was hired by the Vikings in 1992, he had been "ghost-chasing" for years--trying to get that elusive head-coaching job that disappeared like a puff of smoke every time he reached for it.
But Green, when pressed, will not say the NFL is racist--not even one week after he saw his dear friend Sherman Lewis get cheated out of a head-coaching job he more than deserved, this time by our very own Jerry Jones. The word--racist--is not in Green's vocabulary. He prefers to say he deals with discrimination.
"My thing is open-hiring practices, equal access, and equal opportunity," he says from his Wayzata, Minnesota, home. "Presidents, general managers, owners--they all need to do a better job in offering equal opportunity. If a guy can play for your team, he sure as hell can coach it."
Dennis Green is among the few in the NFL raising hell about the inequities in hiring. He's one of the rare men in the league willing to go on the record, willing to lend his reputation to a fight that has gone a thousand rounds with no decision.
And he's the only head coach in the NFL with balls enough to tell the world that former San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers assistant coach Sherman Lewis--four-time Super Bowl winner Sherman Lewis--got screwed when Jones named the very white Chan Gailey to coach the Dallas Cowboys for the next five years.
"When I say Sherman Lewis is one hell of a football coach, I'm not saying he's going to help you win," Green says. "He's going to bring some of that gold dust he had in San Francisco and Green Bay. He's a special guy who gets along with players, who's tough as hell and smart as hell and doesn't fuck around."
No, Dennis Green doesn't need a report to tell him what he already knows. The NFL discriminates. The NFL is racist.
But if you don't take Green's word for it, if Jerry Jones' actions two weeks ago don't speak loud enough and clear enough, then consider the news from the experts. This week, the Center for the Study of Sport in Society releases the 1997 Racial Report Card, which reveals--as it does every year--that the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and the NFL continue to keep "people of color" out of the front office, off the sidelines, away from the decision-making process. One more time, the Northeastern University-based center concludes that qualified black men are being disqualified from head-coaching positions they are within their rights to expect, if not demand.
"Other than players, head coaches and big league managers hold the most visible positions in pro sports," the report states. "This has always seemed to be the most logical place for Blacks and Latinos to get ahead...Many athletes of all colors and ethnic backgrounds have shared this dream. It is far more likely to become a reality if you are white."
The facts are there in white and white. But, again, you don't need a study to tell you that. Just take a trip to Valley Ranch and meet Chan Gailey, the 19th consecutive white man hired to coach an NFL team.
Chan Gailey--who looks like Jimmy Johnson, sounds like Barry Switzer (without the profanity), feels a hell of a lot like Jerry Jones. Chan Gailey--a 46-year-old good ol' boy from the South, a real Georgia peach with the Dan Reeves stamp of approval, a God-fearin' Christian with more twang than a Willie Nelson song. Chan Gailey--a white man who, until four days before he was hired, wasn't even a blip on anyone's head-coaching radar. Chan Gailey--whom Jerry Jones hadn't even met till the week he was named the fourth head coach in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.
Gailey might well turn out to be a successful head coach; only time, as they say, will tell. But do not be fooled by Jones' proclamation at the February 12 press conference that "Chan is the man." Indeed, he's no better than a dozen other candidates out there, especially one named Sherman Lewis.
Consider Gailey's resume: While he's no NFL neophyte like Barry Switzer or, for that matter, Jimmy Johnson, Gailey was first brought to Jones' attention by Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves--the very man who pushed Gailey out the door after Reeves' Denver Broncos went 5-11 in 1990 with Gailey as assistant coach. From 1991 to '92, Gailey coached the Birmingham Fire of the World League, which is barely even pro football; after that, Gailey went to Samford University, which no one outside of Samford University has ever heard of.
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