June 1, 2012 • Huddle Up

When Should Coaches And Race Stop Being An Issue?

Not a day goes by where race in sports does not become an issue somewhere around the country. Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s not, but there needs to be a point when we stop and ask ourselves, “When is it enough?”

Twice this week coaches made headlines when they earned jobs at schools that typically have not hired their colors. Muncie Southside High School (Ind.) hired the county’s first black varsity basketball coach, and Alcorn State, a historically black college, hired a white football coach. Local media reported it as the first non-black football coach in the history of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

My first reaction is it’s ridiculous. It’s 2012, and I suppose I was naïve enough to believe that schools, especially colleges, broke those barriers a long time ago. It’s been more than 50 years since the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, and unless other factors prevent institutions from doing so, this is an issue that should be well behind us.

It’s possible this is a discussion that never goes away. As a former sports reporter at various newspapers, I can tell you the media loves “the first.” There’s going to be the first Hispanic coach, and the first Jewish coach and we’ll continue to read about it. I enjoy the feeling each time I hear that our nation is taking another step forward, but at some point you have to wonder whether the discussion (not the act itself) does more harm than good.

There are at least two ways to look at this, and compelling arguments can be made on either side. The first is questioning whether a spotlight on the race of a coach has a positive or negative effect. Shouldn’t we look past skin color and focus more heavily on the coach’s ability to mentor and teach his student-athletes in his or her respective sport? On most levels we ask our children to be colorblind and respect your fellow man or woman regardless. Are we sending mixed messages when we say “the black coach” and not “the successful coach,” or “the great mentor?”

On the other hand, you can’t ignore progress. While we hate to believe it, there are still regions of this nation that struggle to break barriers and live within a shell of ignorance. When we inch a little more in the right direction, it’s comforting to know that gigantic wall is crumbling, even if it is brick by brick. Publically acknowledging those pioneers helping to move us forward encourages others to do the same, creating a contagious effort to come together, instead of live apart.

I don’t know the right answer. Maybe there isn’t one, and we must find a comfortable medium where we welcome the progress but quickly move on and look beyond the color of one’s skin. No matter what we do, the message is important. So we must make sure we’re sending the right one for communities, schools and future generations.

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