With February being Black History Month, Lions 101 takes time to salute the contributions of a few notable African American pioneers within the organization.
Quietly, lost amid the varying opinions on the hire of Jim Caldwell, the subsequent filling out of his staff, and the quick development of the offseason afterward, a very important fact may have been slightly overlooked.
The Detroit Lions, one of the NFL's older, historic organizations, had finally broken their own color barrier on the sidelines. With his appointment on January 14, Caldwell had become the first African American head coach in Detroit history.
As significant facts go within Detroit sports, this one's a biggie. Consider the fact that Detroit's population is predominantly black, the team now plays downtown as of 2002 and some of the organization's most notable Hall of Fame players like Barry Sanders, Charlie Sanders and Dick "Night Train" Lane are African American, as well. The team has had plenty of black quarterbacks in the past, and with Martin Mayhew, even has a black general manager.
Yet mysteriously, somehow, Detroit had never had a black head coach pacing the sidelines. With the appointment of Caldwell, however, that changed dramatically. Caldwell's former boss and protege Tony Dungy was the first African American head coach to win the Super Bowl, and would be joined by Mike Tomlin in that distinction a few years later. Caldwell, meanwhile, took the Colts to the Super Bowl again after Dungy retired, and as a result, etched his name in history as one of the four black coaches to lead his team to the big game.
Now, that same coach will be trying to lead the ultimate resurgence for Detroit in the form of a championship. A son of the Midwest, Caldwell grew up in a religious, hardened working class environment much like plenty in the Motor City. He had to work hard to earn respect and make a name for himself in coaching in every step of the way, embodying the very spirit of most in the city he now serves.
With Mayhew and Caldwell pairing up together this winter, the Lions now have the only current African American general manager and head coach tandem in the league. Given the front office and coaching professions have both been predominantly white over the years, that's an outstanding fact. Considering where the Lions play and who some of the faces of their franchise are, this is a big deal worthy of notice and praise.
Caldwell's appointment represents a major step forward for the Lions' overall commitment to diversity. Chances are, considering Caldwell's own belief in providence, the move could end up resulting in something bigger in the future.
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