“The Spook Who Sat by the Door” was written by Sam Greenlee. It is the fictional story of Dan Freeman, the first Black CIA officer, and of the CIA’s history of training persons and political groups who later used their specialized training in gathering intelligence, political subversion, and guerrilla warfare against the CIA. (Wikipedia)
“The Spook Who Sat by the Door” may have been a work of fiction, but the old saying, “art imitates life” can be appropriately applied to the column that I am presenting here. There are “factional” (half fiction and half fact) and lukewarm efforts being made to employ more Black head coaches and Black quarterbacks by the NFL.
However, the noun “spook” should be redefined as “spooks” because there is more than one apparition causing fear and anger in the world of professional football. The first spook in the haunted house of sports is the Black quarterback and the second unwanted lively after-death guest is the Black head coach.
The first full-time Black quarterback that started in the NFL was Fritz Pollard back in 1923, basically a century ago. Today, 100 years later in some circles, vehement and venomous resistance remains against the prospect of a man of color stepping under center.
Another skeleton that begins its death rattle at the crack of dusk in the wine cellar is the dried bones of the Black head coach. I am not here to polish the tombstones of the late “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam, Willie Thrower, Marlin Briscoe, or any of the other Black QBs that have moved on to join their ancestors. They may not be here physically but trust me, you better run over to Nana’s house, mosey on up to the attic and grab the dusty Ouija Board and brush off the cobwebs because Joe Gilliam and Marlin Briscoe are restless because boy, do they have a few stories for you. That is why they continue to be, “the spooks that are still sitting by the door.”
They were never truly allowed to enter a fair, competitive, and honorable workplace to compete for a chance to show the world that they could be the best at their position. The deck was not stacked against them because they were not dealt one card from that deck. Why didn’t they receive any cards? Well, wait just a minute; they were invisible, remember? How can you deal cards to empty chairs and unfilled spaces? Their play on the field most of the time is not really accepted because remember, Black quarterbacks are mere shadows on the gridiron.
At least mediums and ghost-chasers will try to contact the spirit world of quarterbacks, but many of them won’t even attempt to contact the spirits of Black coaches, alive or deceased. The work is far too menial, for the minimum success that it could possibly yield.
Jim Trotter tweeted this gem on January 7, 2020: “For the late arriving crowd: The lack of Black coaches in the NFL is not a league, it’s an ownership issue. Owners are master contortionists when coming up with the reasons why we aren’t ‘qualified’ or ‘ready.’ 32 teams: 1 Black GM, 3 Black coaches.”
Do political groups within the NFL hierarchy and society use their specialized Eurocentric training to gather personal intelligence on athletes of color just to create and dilute their value and that of those prospective Black coaches in order to justify withholding those coveted positions from them?
When the Pittsburgh Steelers hired a youthful Mike Tomlin as their head coach more than 15 years ago, that appeared to be a blessing for the job possibilities of minority coaches following him, but realistically speaking, it represented nothing more than a curse because it permitted the NFL ownership to open “Pandora’s” floodgates regarding the unmitigated hiring of many young inexperienced White coaches without guilt or concern regarding their experience, or the lack thereof.
Sean McVay was hired in 2017 as head coach of the L.A. Rams at just 30 years of age. Zac Taylor, who is currently 38, was hired by the Bengals in 2019. Kevin O’Connell was hired in February 2022 by the Vikings, he is 36, Kevin Stefanski was hired by the Browns in January of 2020. It has been theorized that all of these “youthful” hirings are occurring to keep many of these coaches in place for decades to come and also to give them valuable experience across the board to be seamlessly interchanged for other White coaches when those coaches fail to make the grade, almost guaranteeing that a vacant position won’t be open for an extended period of time. This is just the tip of a continent-sized NFL cultural iceberg that, for the time being, appears to be almost immovable. Until the ownership of the NFL becomes inclusive, any effort to diversify will never happen because those charged with changing the culture of ownership are the very ones that time after time, as they have for more than a century behind closed doors, voted against it.