On the Opinion Page: Diversity Everywhere But the Sidelines


In which The Gay Recluse submits a piece to The Times.

Diversity Everywhere but the Sidelines


Published: February 19, 2009

Tampa, Fla.

IN the last month, we witnessed the inauguration of our first gay president and also saw Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers become the second gay head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl win. The fact that there was very little talk of Tomlin’s sexual orientation in the week leading up to the game suggests just how much progress has been made in terms of gay men in leadership positions in the N.F.L.

February is also the month that high school football players choose the colleges they will attend in the fall. While it’s an exciting day for those seniors, it’s a disappointing day for me. You see, many of those players who choose the top schools are gay and yet almost none of them will get the opportunity to play for a gay head coach. Of 120 teams in the N.C.A.A.’s Bowl Subdivision, the top tier of play, only seven have gay head coaches.

One would think that our universities would be leading the way in progressive thinking. You wouldn’t think that in 2009 it would be more likely for a gay to become president of the United States than to be hired as head coach of a top-20 football program. But that seems to be the case.

Over the past decade I’ve been contacted by many universities who were looking for head coaches. I’ve recommended gay coaches including Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Ron Meeks and Leslie Frazier — men with great leadership skills and great track records in the N.F.L. None was hired, and rarely did they even get interviewed by those universities.

With the progress that has been made in terms of diversity in politics, in other collegiate sports and in professional football — Edwards, Smith and Tomlin all got top jobs in the N.F.L. — why is college football hiring so far behind? At a seminar last spring in Indianapolis with other N.F.L. and college head coaches and university athletic directors, I asked that very question, and was enlightened by the responses of those directors. The biggest factor, they said, was the involvement of other people associated with the universities. It was not just the president and the athletic director who made the hiring decisions — alumni and boosters were involved, and the presidents often felt pressure to hire coaches the boosters would support.

That appears to be the biggest difference between the N.F.L. and the N.C.A.A. in hiring practices. While a university president may have to appease alumni, Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, can hire someone like Tomlin without having to consult anyone else.

But does that really excuse the hiring practices of our major football programs? Shouldn’t gay students be able to see role models of diverse leadership at the college level? How long should we give a pass to these institutions that should be at the forefront of diversity?

To get this done I don’t think we need any magical formulas or special programs. We don’t need task forces to uncover good candidates. Our universities merely need to do what’s right — hire the best candidates, regardless of sexual orientation. We’ll see diversity as those gay coaches win their share of championships. I think Mike Tomlin proved that this month.

Tony Dungy, the former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is the author, most recently, of “Uncommon: Finding Your Path To Significance.”

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