nteresting race-relations trifecta here in the Colonies the past three days, no?
Swear in the nation's first African-American president,
, one day after honoring what would have been the 80th birthday of Dr.
, just hours after the
win the AFC championship and make Mike Tomlin the third black head coach to compete in the
The latter, obviously, is the least significant of the three events, which Tomlin is the first to say, for several reasons.
One, it's sports. Though sports move the societal needle on occasion, and though the Super Bowl has become nearly a national religious event, athletic achievement does not compare to honoring a martyr whose work helped lead to the day that an African-American leads the most powerful nation on Earth.
Second, Tomlin isn't exactly a pioneer, which he also freely admits. He speaks gratefully and reverently of following in the footsteps of his coaching mentor, former
and Tampa Bay
head man Tony Dungy, as well as people such as
and Herm Edwards and Romeo Crennel and
Though Tomlin is the first black head coach of one of the
's signature franchises, being the second or third person to achieve a particular level of distinction doesn't carry the cachet of being the first.
Tomlin, a Peninsula native, doesn't think of himself as an African-American coach. He's a coach. By all accounts, an increasing number of us concur.
Skin color might have gotten him in the door, courtesy of the NFL's Rooney Rule, but it didn't get him hired. Nor will it provide cover should the team not perform up to organization standards.
He's fine with that. Judge him on results, not on essay-question, sociological constructs.
Focused and intense as Tomlin is, he isn't unaware of current events. He even pushed back his weekly Tuesday give-and-take with his reporter friends so as not to conflict with the Obama inauguration.
Asked about perhaps receiving a congratulatory phone call from the new First Fan should the Steelers win the Super Bowl, he replied:
"What we are doing here today pales in comparison to what's going in our nation's capital with President Obama's inauguration. As a citizen, as a parent, the hope that he sells and we buy in (to what) he potentially is going to bring to the table is exciting. I am as excited about that as I am about anything going on right now.
"In regards to potentially getting a phone call," Tomlin added, "I will cross that bridge when I come to it. I am just trying to put together a decent game plan at this point."
That dovetails nicely with one message that the 44th president conveys: Ideology aside, I'll do my job to the best of my ability, but you must do yours, as well.
It's a familiar message in athletics, particularly team sports. When teammates do not perform and are not held accountable, teams lose.
Stars, athletic or political, are nice, but they cannot do it all. Rely on them too much and they, and you, will fail.
Obama is a sports fan and remains a passionate baller. You have to think that sports helped prepare him for the blocking, tackling and wedge-busting of Washington, D.C., and national politics.
Unfortunately, too much of what Obama does will be viewed through the prism of race, what with him being the first, well, you know.
First African-American president to antagonize Republicans. First African-American president to disappoint Democrats. First to torque off a foreign leader. First to twist his knee in a noon-time
hoops game. The list is as pointless as it is endless.
Tomlin doesn't shoulder that burden. He won't be the first to win a Super Bowl, nor the first fired, if it comes to that. He won't be the first to have his own bobble-head doll, nor the first to botch clock management at the end of a half.
We're approaching Dr. King's ideal — where content of character overrides color of skin — but we aren't there yet.
So far, King's legacy helped get an African-American elected president and, in roundabout ways, a 30-something guy from the Peninsula the chance to sweat over a Super Bowl game plan.