Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


My Take: Racism and College Football – The Curious Case of Charlie Strong

I've always enjoyed sports, but haven't found as much time to watch in recent years. It's usually around tournament or playoff time that I get at least a little more engaged. And it's interesting because, in many ways, you get a pretty good recap of the season during that short period - the highs, the lows, the surprises, and of course the controversies.

Given that I don't watch much during the whole season, I'm usually at a loss when it comes time to pick a favorite. Inevitably, if I don't have some personal connection to a team I immediately look for some other factors. Do I know anyone that went to the school, do I know someone who teaches at the school? And naturally, any one of the racial group connections that might be relevant - is the coach Black, is the quarterback Black, is there something else important about the school's history with respect to African American history and achievement? Every tournament time you hear some of these things come up. It's what we do and what we look for. Given our history, and present, it only makes sense that we promote achievement and our opportunities for greater success whenever we can.

Along those lines, I just came across an article discussing the new hire of Charlie Strong as head football coach at the University of Texas. More specifically, the article was about the fact that Charlie Strong is a Black man, and the remaining unspoken (well, usually unspoken) reality that Black folks still can't get the nod when it comes to these head coaching positions. This article (you can also listen to the corresponding audio), including Charlie Strong and his supporters, takes on this issue directly.

You can read the NPR article here, and listen to the 5-minute audio just below.

Highlighting the enduring reality of racism in sports, in this case college football, there are a few excerpts worth noting.

Acknowledging all of Strong's credentials and a winning record to support his selection, an unnamed school in the south turned him down, acknowledging racism as the driving decision-making factor.

Mike Bianchi, who wrote the story for the Orlando Sentinel, says Strong's name was always mentioned for jobs, but despite being interviewed often, he was never hired.

"There was one particular school that he wouldn't name — it was an SEC school," says Bianchi. "After he interviewed for the job, he was told that he didn't get the job because he was a black man who had a white wife and they didn't think that would go over well in the South."

Snubbed by the Southeastern Conference, the University of Louisville came calling. Strong became the sixth black head coach in the 120-school Football Bowl Subdivision. And in four short years he turned the Cardinals into a powerhouse — the last two seasons going a combined 23-3.

So here comes the University of Texas, recognizing Charlie Strong's success, and their opportunity to hire a winning coach and pull their football program back on track. Unfortunately, a number of the program's boosters aren't so pleased.

Yet when the University of Texas announced his appointment last week, Strong was met with some backlash.

Powerful billionaire, Texas alumnus and former Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs told ESPN radio he was stunned at Strong's appointment.

"I was a little bit stunned when Charlie was given that job. I don't have any doubt that Charlie is a fine coach," said McCombs. "I think he'd probably make a great position coach, maybe a coordinator, but I don't think it adds up."

McCombs wanted Texas to hire former NFL coach Jon Gruden, a winner of the Super Bowl. Other Texas big money donors wanted Nick Saban, Alabama's coach.

So we'll see how Charlie Strong does as a Longhorn.  As you can assume given me earlier comments, I'll be pulling for him. It's my own unspoken race favorites rule. We have to support examples of African American achievement whenever and wherever we see it. Opportunities like these don't happen all the time, and we know the cost is ten times higher for other Black head coach prospects if Strong doesn't succeed. It's not right, but that's precisely why we hope for the best.

The article concludes...

If Strong turns Texas back into the powerhouse it once was and wins a national championship, black assistant coaches everywhere could begin seeing those head coaching doors open more than just a crack.

Given the history and present reality of race in this country, I'm justifiably skeptical.

What say you?

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