“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” -1 Samuel 16:7
Tony Dungy, former NFL head coach, used this verse to start one of the chapters in his bestselling book Quiet Strength.
To most fans and athletes, Tony Dungy is simply a coach. To a few others, he is a man worthy of admiration. Dungy reformed the Colts with a game plan that proved more than just winning. He re-organized the defense and brought the team to a new understanding of the game of football.
His unique coaching efforts paid off. In 2007, Dungy led the franchise to their second championship, defeating the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI, making him the first African-American to coach a team to a Super Bowl victory.
Along with this entry for the history books, Dungy was the first coach to defeat all 32 teams in the NFL, the youngest assistant coach and coordinator at the age of 25 and 28 respectively, and was the third person to win a Super Bowl championship as both a player and head coach.
Many of the pioneers that changed the face of sports across the board were African-American. It is unfortunate that their achievements and mark in history often go unnoticed or barely celebrated once a year during February.
In a time when slavery and racism were prominent, a 19-year-old jockey by the name of Oliver Lewis crossed the barrier, forever changing the outlook of professional sports. Not only was he the first person to win the Kentucky Derby at its start in 1875, but Lewis was the first African-American to claim the title. For the next three decades African-Americans dominated the sport of horse racing, winning 15 of the next 28 derbies.
By dedication and pure love of the sport, Lewis opened the door for many others to follow his footsteps and break the race-divided blockade.
It is the courage, strength and tenacity of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in the MLB 72 years later, that truly began the wave of integration in sports.
Men like Willie Mays, Fritz Pollard, Bobby Marshall and Wally Triplett, all pioneers in their field, shared the same perseverance as Robinson and Lewis. They saw that sports had their heart and nothing stopped them from pursuing their dreams. As Tony Dungy stated in his book, “Why would you let anything stop you from doing what you have the ability to do?”
Over the years sports slowly became a model for the rest of society. The NBA was the first league to fully embrace players of color. Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Nat “Sweetwater” Cliffton and Harry “Bucky” Lew were among the first players to be drafted, signed and play for a NBA team.
All of these men had one goal: to play a sport they loved, professionally. They faced extreme hatred and discouragement because of the color of their skin.
It is 2014, and progress has definitely been made in terms of acceptance and equality. Today, you can see that sports in general are blended with people of all races, cultures and backgrounds.
As Vince Lombardi said, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”