Black NFL Fans Confront Welcome Quandary

Errin Haines, AP, Feb. 3, 2007

With two black coaches in the Super Bowl for the first time, the historic accomplishment presents a welcome dilemma for many black fans: For whom to root?

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Black coaches led two of the four teams that reached the NFL’s conference title games, so the odds were good that one would make history and become the first black coach in the Super Bowl. Many black fans without team allegiances prepared to root for either Dungy or Smith over a white rival.

But with Dungy and Smith set to oppose one another in the NFL’s championship game, many black fans are deciding who to pull for on even more trivial criteria.

In Atlanta—a city often regarded as a bellwether for black popular culture—the topic has been on the minds of many blacks for days.

Music artist Greg Xmaz idolized former Chicago Bears defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry as a child, so the 25-year-old plans to root for Perry’s old team.

“He was a black man that was very successful when I was growing up as a kid. And he was fat and I was fat. It was something I could relate to,” Xmaz said.

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Andre Wiggins, an accountant, has rooted for Dungy for a couple of years, hoping the black coach would finally get his chance.

Wiggins said he had the same feeling of pride when Redskins quarterback Doug Williams led his team to win SuperBowl XXII, becoming the first black quarterback to do so nearly 20 years ago.

Wiggins, 38, said he likes Dungy because he has helped other black coaches break into the field, including Smith, who was an assistant to Dungy when he coached at Tampa Bay.

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Colleague Mike Holley said he will be looking farther down the sidelines to see which coach has the most blacks on his coaching staff. (Nine of the Colts’ 17 coaches are black; seven of the Bears’ 19 are black.)

Radio personality Ryan Cameron brought up the topic on Atlanta’s V-103 last week after hearing two black women discussing the issue in an elevator. On the show, Cameron said the callers—mostly black women—were very passionate about the subject, whether or not they were football fans.

“For somebody who’s not a sports fan, they’ve got to have a reason to root,” said Cameron, host of the Ryan Cameron Show. “In today’s society, race is still an issue, even though we try to say it’s not as big a deal anymore.”

Reggie Green, a 30-year-old architect, said he will cheer for Chicago, but said he’s just out for a good name for blacks.

“It’s always a black thing for me, even if it’s ice skating,” he said.

Tyrone Buckner, a 37-year-old accountant in Atlanta, said the issue in this year’s Super Bowl is one of black pride.

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