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Old 01-31-2009, 01:16 PM   #1
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Default In these times, Tomlin’s age is more of a factor than his race

In these times, Tomlin’s age is more of a factor than his race
The Kansas City Star

TAMPA, Fla. | In the days leading up to Super Bowl XLIII, Mike Tomlin’s age is a far bigger story than his race.

In coaching years, Pittsburgh’s boss is a baby, just 36, the youngest man to lead a team to America’s most prestigious sporting event.

In the year of Obama, we’re constantly taking stock of how far we’ve come in this resilient, evolving country of ours. No one really cares that Mike Tomlin is black. It’s a small sidebar. He could become the second black coach in four years to win the Super Bowl, joining Tony Dungy. So what?

That’s how far we have come in my lifetime, in my career as a sports journalist.

It doesn’t get any bigger than the Super Bowl. And there are few leadership positions more influential than directing an NFL franchise. Just five years ago, Mike Tomlin would be the top story on Headline News, the lead to “60 Minutes” and on the front page of most magazines.

Youthful, charismatic, black and potentially leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to their sixth Super Bowl title, Tomlin would’ve been a movie script in 2004. Now, he’s just an outstanding young coach.

We all have reason to be proud. America created opportunity for all of its citizens, and Tomlin was wise enough to go pursue it. He ditched the idea of going to law school, chased his dream of being a football coach and rose to the top of his profession the same way Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher did before him. Noll and Cowher were in their mid 30s when they were tabbed to pilot the Steelers. It took them more than two years to qualify for the NFL’s showcase.

Doogie Tomlin is a coaching wunderkind.

“I feel extremely blessed,” Tomlin said Friday when questioned about his age. “I haven’t spent a bunch of time dwelling on that, truth be known. Those things are nice things to talk about, but I imagine that won’t be a topic of discussion for long. Maybe next year at this time, there will be guys like Josh McDaniels or Raheem Morris standing up here, and you won’t be talking about me. That’s football.”

That’s America. We’re always evolving and moving on. McDaniels and Morris are the 30-something coaches of the Broncos and the Buccaneers, respectively. Morris is just 32, three years removed from Ron Prince’s initial coaching staff, four years removed from being a coaching intern with the Bucs. Like Tomlin, Morris is black. Like Tomlin, Morris’ race is trumped by his youth.

This makes me incredibly happy. But I also don’t want to pass up the chance to remind young people of how much opportunity this country affords people willing to ignore the naysayers.

Tomlin and Morris made it because they believed they could. Obama is president because he believed he could.

Some of our peers missed on their chance to get their piece of the American Dream because they failed to recognize or accept that gaping holes had been blown through many of America’s walls of racial oppression.

What should they do now that the openings are obvious?

Well, it’s important for all young (and old) people to avoid getting trapped in a negative-defeatist attitude. Our economy is in bad shape, people are losing jobs and houses and being forced to start over. Just as we can see the inclusiveness of America’s opportunities, the opportunities appear to be shrinking.

You have to believe in America’s ability to heal itself and prepare yourself for the next round of amazing opportunities.

That’s what I think about when I see Mike Tomlin. He was ready when opportunity knocked. The Rooneys, the owners of the Steelers, initiated the “Rooney Rule” that required NFL teams to interview minority coaching candidates. When Cowher retired, it made perfect sense for the Rooneys to back up their beliefs with action.

Tomlin rewarded the Rooneys with consistent effort and maturity.

Nowhere else in the world do these stories happen as frequently as they do here. In America, we make history rapidly. Sometimes things change so fast here that we don’t even get a chance to admire our progress. The controversy about black coaches in the NFL is over.

The Mike Tomlin story is defined by age, not race.
To reach Jason Whitlock, call 816-234-4869 or send e-mail to jwhitlock@kcstar.com. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.
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