When reading or hearing about the extremely limited number of Black head coaches in the National Football League (NFL), I remember an article titled “Where are the Black Coaches?” in the December 1973 issue of Ebony magazine. Under the title, it stated, “No Blacks lead professional teams; only five have been selected as assistants.”

The article reported, “This year in the National Football League, 198 coaches are coaching, approximately 1,118 players. While some 435 players are Black, not a single Black is listed among the 26 head coaches in the League and only 5 Blacks are among the League’s 172 assistant coaches. They are Emlen Tunnell of the New York Giants, Willie Wood of the San Diego Chargers, Lionel Taylor of the Pittsburg Steelers, Al Labor of the Cleveland Browns and Earnell Durden of the Houston Oilers.”

Fifty years later, the question asked by Ebony still hasn’t been answered. In the Jan. 11, 2023, issue of The Washington Post, included an article, “The NFL is Down to Two Black Coaches. Will anything change this offseason?” It reported that “A year ago, nine teams came out of the 2022 regular season seeking a new head coach, and only one hired a black man. … Now, as the 2023 NFL hiring cycle gets underway, with at least five head coach openings, the landscape is both numbingly familiar — the Houston Texans’ firing of Lovie Smith on Sunday leaves the League with just two Black full-time head coaches — and subtly altered, at least in theory, both by design and circumstances. Whether that translates into programs won’t be known for weeks.”

The 1973 Ebony article included comments by two former Black players, Gayle Sayers, a great backfield star with the Chicago Bears, and the aforementioned Emlen Tunnell. Sayers was recorded as saying, “Coaching is a closed fraternity. Owners and general managers usually hire friends for a head coaching post. But I don’t think racism has anything to do with it.” Tunnell, the first Black player for the New York Giants, was quoted as saying, “The color of one’s skin shouldn’t be used to measure the wealth of a man, but it will for the rest of our lifetimes.”

One question today is, how many 2023 Black NFL players share the positions attributed 50 years ago to Sayers and Tunnell? Another question is whether they have the “me, myself and I” attitude expressed by too many Black folks today. If today’s Black NFL players do share the positions attributed to Sayers and Tunnell, a question about the lack of Black head coaches will still be relevant 50 years from now. On the other hand, if the players work together and are backed by serious Black folks, that question will be irrelevant.

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