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Is the NFL Stuck in Old School Ways?

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

The grand narrative of being manly was an outdated schtick that should've never persisted. But sadly, it was baked into the origins of football. The sport did not rise to prominence because of ruffians in the streets as many people romanticize. Quite the contrary. It was introduced into the Ivy League as a social engineering tool to harden boys.

Walter Camp, often described as the father of football, preached: “Better [to] make a boy an outdoor savage than an indoor weakling.” These Ivy League bookworms were seen as too soft. And there was a growing fear that the next generation of leaders funneling out of top schools would not be equipped to establish American dominance on the world stage. Those in areas of influence saw football as a substitute for war to teach boys to absorb punishment and dish it out in return. Theodore Roosevelt reinforced this notion in his address at Harvard in 1907, “I have no sympathy whatever with the overwrought sentimentality which would keep a young man in cotton wool. Don’t flinch, don’t foul: hit the line hard!”

Along with the chest-beating macho stuff, I struggled to reconcile several head coaching selections when plenty of impressive position coaches stood at the ready. I shook my head when these experts, often coaches of color, were overlooked for guys like Urban Meyer who worked with college kids before joining the old boys club. Meyer, an ex-college coach of questionable character with a shady past of cover-ups was tapped before proven NFL coaches. Not surprisingly, Meyer, just like some others before him, had no idea how to relate to professionals, nor professionals to him.

The league and its franchisees can do better in the selection of leaders. No, they must do better. It sickened me that only five out of thirty-two teams had Black head coaches in 2022 while, as a race, they made up seventy percent of the players. Meanwhile, the league offered another song and dance about reform. The Rooney Rule, their weak attempt at a fix, requires teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation roles. While many rebuff this example of affirmative action, I feel it doesn't go far enough to usher in long-overdue change.

More on this topic and others in my memoir, Aggressively Human, available on Amazon: Aggressively Human.


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