In this piece, I will be dealing with an extremely sensitive topic, one which affects most people one way or another. Racism is prevalent everywhere, in schools, workplaces, places of worship, communities and even sports. It is a belief that one person or group is better than the other. My focus will be on racism in sports.

The conclusion of the NFL regular season means that while twelve teams reach the playoffs, twenty teams look for ways to become better the following year. Sometimes that means hiring a new head coach. Heading into the 2019 season, there was a total of only three black head coaches. That is disappointing for a league where almost three quarters of the players are black.

I think the reason the number of African-American head coaches in the NFL is low is because 31 of the 32 team owners are white. The owners interview black coaches, but in my opinion, that is only to adhere to the Rooney Rule. This rule requires owners to interview minority candidates, even though I am sure owners know who they will hire prior to interviewing those coaches.

NFL owners should not have an issue with hiring black coaches to be their sideline leader. After all, there were a couple coaches who had favorable outcomes for their teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers hired Mike Tomlin in 2007. He took the Steelers to two Superbowls and emerged victorious in Superbowl 43 against the Arizona Cardinals. Tomlin is still the team’s head coach, despite a non-playoff year.

There was only one instance in the history of the NFL where two African-American head coaches opposed each other in the big game. The Indianapolis Colts (coached by Tony Dungy) went up against the Chicago Bears (coached by Lovie Smith). The Colts won Superbowl 41 and Dungy became the first black head coach to hold the Vince Lombardi trophy.

Looking at the past successes and extra hard work that black coaches put in, not only for their team’s achievements, but also to prove themselves, owners should not have an issue with naming a black man a head coach if he has the necessary tools to make a successful team. Hopefully, there will be a time where this is no longer an issue in America’s most profitable sport.

Major League Baseball has also seen its share of racism. There are still fans who go to games and taunt players using racial slurs. That is wrong. In fact, the name calling and deplorable actions were worse when Jackie Robinson began play and when Hank Aaron broke the home run record.

Jackie Robinson’s first year of playing in Major League Baseball was in 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. According to a 2008 article by Mike Zoran titled “Is racism alive and well in Major League Baseball?” the General Manager of the team at the time, Branch Rickey, made his player swear that he would not respond to the potential hatred coming his way. He also wanted Jackie to win over fans, even those in opposing cities with “his professionalism and talent.” His teammates even threatened not to play, because Robinson was black. But he earned their respect. He won the 1947 Rookie of the Year award and went into the Hall of Fame after his career concluded. He worked hard to win fans over and showed determination, willpower and class in the face of racism. No one should ever have to deal with this issue. The focus should be on being the best in their sport of choice.

With Jackie Robinson being introduced to the baseball world in 1947 and playing as well as he did, one would surmise that racism would be eradicated or at least not be as bad in the sport. Sadly, it was not. In 1974, Hank Aaron, who played for the Atlanta Braves, was on a mission to break Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Unfortunately, not all baseball fans were excited to see an African-American man achieve his goal. Death threats and hate mail were sent to his home. When Hank hit home run number 715, the crowd in Atlanta went crazy. He ended his career as the home run leader at 755.

The National Hockey League has seen its share of racism over the years. Willie O Ree was the first black hockey player in the NHL. He played his entire professional career with the Boston Bruins from 1957 until 1979. He dealt with fans yelling and taunting him with racial slurs and obscenities. Years after he retired, he became a diversity ambassador for the league. Unfortunately, black players still suffer racial taunts.

In November of 2019, a report circulated about the behavior of the now former Calgary Flames coach, Bill Peters, and Akim Aliu, a minor league hockey player of color. Aliu controlled the choice of music prior to a morning skate for their minor league team. He chose hip hop. His teammates did not mind, but when Peters walked into the locker room, he publicly chastised the choice of music using racist and foul language. His behavior shocked everyone present.

Aliu could have responded to the coach. But he was young and did not want to have his potential NHL career tarnished and be labelled a “troublemaker.” He just wanted to play the game, and be good at it. Despite that, Peters was moved up to become head coach of the Calgary Flames, and did not change his ways. He even started to tap players on the head aggressively. When Flames General Manager, Brad Treliving got wind of what Peters did in the minors, he was hesitant to release him. But, after a few days, more stories of his racism and even abuse came out. With that. Peters decided to resign. I think Peters should have resigned the day after this was revealed, or the organization should have fired him instead of waiting.

It is not right that racism plays a role in professional sports. In fact, fans should be proud of all athletes of color. Hank Aaron should not have received any kind of hate on the way to breaking the home run record. That achievement is something to be celebrated, regardless of who did it. Owners should not discriminate in the hiring process. And, coaches should not treat players any less because of their skin color.

We are all different in some way. Some have different skin color. Some belong to different religions. Some have different sexual orientations. Some, like me, have visible challenges. All religions promote peace, acceptance, fairness and respect. Trust me, I have been taunted and made fun of many times. Being fair speaks volumes. So, my request to all those who are in a position to make a positive difference is to do the right thing. Judge others by their skills and knowledge, and not by their skin color or how they look.

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