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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Columbia Breaks the Color Barrier

I honestly don't think there's a color barrier in Ivy athletics. Last year, half of the Ancient Eight's men's hoops coaches were African-American. This year, three are (the fourth, John Thompson III, moved on to Georgetown). But that's basketball.

Until yesterday, no Ivy school had a man of color at the helm of its football team. Columbia University changed all that when it hired Norries Wilson, the offensive coordinator at UConn, to be its head coach.

The first head football coach of color at an Ivy League school.


It's about time.

Actually, it's long overdue.

I blogged here last year that it appeared, at least to me, that the term "black quarterback" had gone out of vogue -- for all the right reasons. After all, many African-American quarterbacks now start in the NFL, and all of Jacksonville's quarterbacks in 2004 and now 2005 -- Byron Leftwich, David Garrard and Quinn Gray -- are African-American (I didn't count Oklahoma alum Nate Hybl, who is on the practice squad). Thankfully, most of us -- Rush Limbaugh excepted -- are looking at quarterbacks as quarterbacks, regardless of race. That's excellent progress, even if it did take too long and even if some excellent would-be quarterbacks didn't get the chance because, back in the day, they were moved to wide receiver or defensive back -- because of their race (Tony Dungy might have been one). No more "black quarterback" (the moniker that Doug Williams and James Harris, among others, had to live with). Just simply, whether it's Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning or Carson Palmer -- the quarterback who can beat your brains out.

It's also time for us to consider head football coaches as head coaches and not as "black head coaches." There are too few head coaches of color in Division I-A and Division I-AA, and that should change. That's not to say that every African-American or Asian-American assistant coach automatically is qualified to be a head coach -- some clearly are not, as many white assistants-turned-head coaches proved that they were not. But all assistants of color deserve an equal shot to get the interviews and have access to the same process that white coaches have access to. It's not only fair, it's the American way.

As is football.

Columbia took a great step forward for the conference that desires to inspire the world to bigger and better things. And while Norries Wilson would have a better chance to win an Ivy title at any other Ivy school given Columbia's sad gridiron history, he earned the opportunity presented to him. Here's to hoping that the Columbia administration, especially its admissions office, will honor him the way he has honored Columbia by joining it. He cannot beat Harvard, Yale and Princeton by himself. Not to mention perennial power Pennsylvania.

Hail, Columbia, for taking this step. In the process, here's to hoping that this step, and many others like it, will end the shame that has been the lack of head coaches of color in football in the college.


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