Sunday, January 28, 2007

Still Dreaming

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963.

I have always been moved by these words. First, because Martin Luther King, Jr., was such a brilliant speaker, and when I read his words I can still hear him speaking. Second, because Dr. King’s words are so consistent with the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” In the Hebrew, the repetition of the word “tzedek, tzedek” makes it clear that justice is not something we can just sit around and wait for—we must go out and seek it. To me, a nation in which we judge people without reference to their race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, would be a truly just society.

Unfortunately, last weekend we found out that even though more than forty years have passed since Dr. King’s speech, we are nowhere near having a color-blind society. As the results of the two NFL conference championship games were discussed, it was stressed that history was being made. The coaches of the two teams—Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts—are both African Americans and therefore the winning coach of the Super Bowl will be African American.

There was little discussion of the brilliant seasons these two coaches had: No talk of their strategy; nothing about their ability to motivate their players; nothing about how hard it is to get their teams to the Super Bowl. No—the only thing relevant was that both coaches are African Americans.

The same day we were told that the Pittsburgh Steelers had hired Mike Tomlin to be their coach for next year. The story stressed that Tomlin will be the Steelers first African American head coach.

Sorry, Dr. King, your dream is still unfulfilled. We still judge people by the color of their skin.

Does this make sense in football? I can just imagine a 210 pound quarterback looking across the line of scrimmage at the four huge 320 pound defensive linemen who intend to break every bone in his body as soon as the ball is snapped. Then he looks at the five men on his offensive line and thinks how nice it is that his linemen are 40% Caucasian, 40% African American, and 20% Pacific Islander.

Are you kidding? All he cares about is whether those five guys are willing and able to protect his body from the oncoming horde. Any quarterback who concerns himself with the color, ethnicity, nationality or religion of his offensive linemen will probably end up on his butt in great pain.

We need to stop labeling people. We need to stop referring to each other as hyphenated Americans. We need to fulfill Dr. King’s dream and stop measuring people by the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their religion, or any other group identity. We need to recognize that Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy are great football coaches. Period!

Oh, I hope it is a wonderful Super Bowl.

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