Special to Page 2
The NFL, which has made so much progress in the past year in terms of hiring African-American head coaches and general managers, took the giant step Tuesday when the announcement was made that Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler will buy the Minnesota Vikings from Red McCombs. Fowler is an African-American who played college football at the University of Wyoming as well as several years in the Canadian Football League, the National Football League, and the United States Football League.
The pending sale of the Vikings (for $625 million) means all four major sports in the United States will have a majority owner of color for the first time. Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar were the first, when they purchased the New York Islanders. Robert Johnson was awarded the NBA expansion franchise Charlotte Bobcats and Arturo Moreno purchased the Anaheim Angels.
Team ownership is the last significant barrier to fall in professional sports. There was a huge gap between the integration of players in the professional leagues and the hiring of coaches of color. Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier for players in 1947 but it was not until 1975 when the Cleveland Indians hired Frank Robinson as the first African-American manager. In the NBA, Sweetwater Clifton, Earl Lloyd and Chuck Cooper became the first African-American players in 1950; Bill Russell took over the Boston Celtics as head coach in 1966. In 1946, the Los Angeles Rams signed Kenny Washington and Woody Strode while the Cleveland Browns of the old All-America Football Conference signed Marion Motley and Bill Willis. But it took 43 years before the Raiders hired Art Shell in 1989 as the first African-American head coach in the modern era (Fritz Pollard had coached Akron in 1922).
After the coaches came general managers in basketball (Wayne Embry, Milwaukee Bucks, 1971), baseball (Bill Lucas, Atlanta Braves, 1977) and football (Ray Anderson, Atlanta Falcons, 2002). The only leagues to have team presidents of color have been the NBA (Embry was the first, with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1994) and Major League Baseball (Ulice Payne, Milwaukee Brewers, 2004). And now the milestone of diverse ownership has been reached -- more than 55 years after the integration on the field.
What will happen in the future? Will owners hire top executives who look like them? Does it mean that a Latino owner will hire a Latino general manager, manager or president? That has not happened so far in the short tenure of Moreno in Anaheim. With the Bobcats, Johnson did hire an African-American head coach and general manager in a league where such hires are not uncommon. There have been no Asian presidents, coaches or general managers with the Islanders under Wang and Kumar.
What will Fowler do? We also gain little insight when looking at the patterns of colleges, where no current Division I-A African-American university president has hired an African-American athletics director or head football coach or appointed an African-American faculty athletics representative.