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“The Game Within the Game”

A new NFL hiring cycle is underway, but the same problems persist for the league’s Black coaches trying to advance in an industry designed to obstruct their upward mobility

Richard A. Chance

Entering Alonzo Carter’s domain is a high-pressure proposition. On a Zoom call this summer, his boisterous personality practically burst through my screen. “We all stressin’,” he assured the nervous participants who joined the call, “but you at least gotta laugh a bit, brotha!” Carter communicates with enthusiasm and ease; it’s easy to see how he excelled in his first profession, as a backup dancer for MC Hammer. Currently, he works as an assistant football coach at San Jose State, where he’s regarded as one of the best recruiters in the Mountain West Conference. He invited me to attend what he calls “Zoom therapy,” a gathering of hundreds of Black football coaches from all over the country. In the meeting, coaches share hopeful stories of progress, but they are more likely to lament regressive hiring practices and other conditions that keep so many of them underemployed.

Carter howled into his microphone to try to lighten the mood. The man with a large Rolodex and a zeal for helping his fellow Black coaches insisted there’s a method to his madness. He encouraged everyone to be true to themselves and not to change to appease football’s gatekeepers. “How you gonna get to D-I or the NFL if you ain’t real widdit?” he asked. Smiles cracked across hardened faces on the screen, one after another. Someone poured a splash of whiskey; another lit a cigar. Carter took command of the conversation and calmed the participants, preparing them for a long evening of discussion, with topics that included being Black in football and being Black in America when fire and protest consume so many cities. Most importantly, they talked about navigating the barriers placed in front of Black coaches in an industry designed to obstruct their upward mobility.

While that night’s meeting featured high school coaches, other sessions hosted by Carter include coaches from the collegiate level up to the NFL. His desire is for Black coaches to no longer feel isolated; he wants to assure them that their stories aren’t singular—the racism one feels in one state or one league is felt by another elsewhere. Burnout and frustration are prominent emotions at these gatherings. Carter said it’s soothing for participants to see so many of their peers having similar experiences. “You’re going, ‘Oh, you going through that in Texas? Oh, you’re going through that in California?’ Or, ‘You’re going through that in Louisiana? You’re going through that in Washington? You’re going through that in Florida? Hey, these all sound the same.’” He’s also mindful of keeping the conversation on schedule and encourages speakers to be succinct. Previous meetings have lasted up to seven hours, and Carter didn’t want to waste any time.

“Try to stick to the question. We ain’t tryna’ be here all night,” he warned, before adding with a smile, “or hear about how you feel about Donald Trump!”

The conversation about improving diversity at the highest levels of football coaching often centers on the “pipeline,” or the pool of available candidates of color. Strengthen the “pipeline” and we’ll see more coaches of color get opportunities for the highest-ranking jobs. It’s an enticing argument but a gross oversimplification of the problem: A “pipeline” implies a system designed to facilitate movement. In reality, many Black coaches are presented with only the illusion of mobility. Instead, they are stymied and stifled, and efforts to improve the system have repeatedly failed. What’s clear is that the sport’s hiring practices are not working for Black coaches, especially in the NFL.

Carter knows this—it’s partly why he and his friend Kefense Hynson, a wide receivers coach at Oregon State, created their version of a coaches’ support group. “There’s not too many African American slash minority coaches that have shown or been able to have upward movement,” Carter told me on the phone from his office in San Jose in August. He calls it the “game within the game” and said, “We weren’t talking about no techniques. We just weren’t talking about how to score a touchdown or how to stop somebody. No, we were talking about, ‘How do we grow? How do we elevate? How do we help each other?’” It started in the spring as a series of friendly phone calls among Division I coaches on the West Coast. The coronavirus pandemic had shut down regular football activities, so coaches had time on their hands and needed an outlet. It grew quickly: Hundreds have participated in Carter and Hynson’s Zoom therapy sessions, including Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, Stanford head coach David Shaw, Maryland head coach Mike Locksley, as well as NFL coaches including the Dolphins’ Brian Flores and the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn.

The calls are a safe haven: Mike London, the head coach at William & Mary, and the only Black head coach in the Colonial Athletic Conference, told me they are a reminder of the need for more coaches who “look like myself.” Florida A&M coach Willie Simmons said Black coaches have been judged by different standards than their white peers for too long. “It’s disheartening to know that our hard work, our sacrifices, the same things that our white counterparts are doing, aren’t getting noticed by decision-makers, and that’s something that we’re all working very hard to try to change.” Some coaches I spoke with said they had lost hope after repeatedly noticing the signals blocking them from the head coaching chair. “It’s just like anything else in life, man,” Hynson told me. “If you grow up a certain way and you aren’t able to kind of see how the other half lives and how things work in different realms, you just don’t know. And so if we’re not in those seats, it’s hard to know what those seats entail.”

The NFL hiring cycle has begun anew: The Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans both fired their head coaches early in the season. The defensive coordinators for both teams—Raheem Morris in Atlanta and Romeo Crennel in Houston, both Black and former head coaches—have taken over on an interim basis, though it’s unlikely that either will stay in those roles full time. Last season’s hiring cycle showed how acute the problem has become for coaches of color: Among the five teams with a head coaching vacancy, 20 total interviews were conducted. Only seven were given to non-white candidates, and all seven were given to just four men (Ron Rivera, Kris Richard, Eric Bieniemy, and Marvin Lewis).

There is no justification for why non-white coaches have so much trouble ascending to the top job on the sideline. The institutional barriers preventing them from advancing are so firmly entrenched that they can no longer be addressed solely by administrative procedures. The problem needs to be rooted out from within the foundation of the sport.

“It is 2020,” C. Keith Harrison, a sports business professor at the University of Central Florida, wrote in his opening statement of the NFL’s annual report on the upward mobility of non-white coaches, released in March. “By now, I truly wish our research team no longer had to be commissioned by the NFL to study and investigate why a dearth of opportunities exist for non-White coaches and other leaders in comparison to White coaches and leaders in the NFL. However, the reality is that we still have a long way to go if we are ever going to find and create answers and solutions. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Harrison is the lead researcher for a project that collects the league’s hiring data. He’s traced decades of information showing the lack of upward mobility for coaches of color, from the assistant ranks up to the ownership level. His research has consistently shown—and emphasizes in this year’s data set—that the focus needs to be on those with decision-making power. His data shows that from January 1963 to February 2020, only 18 different Black men and four Latino men have served as head coaches in the NFL; during that time, 115 white candidates have been hired for a second opportunity as an NFL head coach or coordinator. From 2006 to 2020, NFL teams hired 93 head coaches, and only 14 percent of them weren’t white. There are still 24 franchises that have never had more than one non-white head coach.

In the time between the last two Super Bowls, the league hired 31 head coaches, coordinators, and general managers for open positions; 24 of those jobs went to white candidates. During the same period, six of the 31 coaches, coordinators, or general managers who were fired or promoted or who left their team were non-white, which means that from February 2019 to February 2020, the total number of men of color serving as head coaches, coordinators, and general managers increased only by one. The NFL has commissioned Harrison to write his report since 2012; since then, teams have hired 46 white men to fill 55 head coach openings, 97 offensive coordinator jobs have gone to white men compared to nine to non-white men, 53 of 86 defensive coordinator jobs have gone to white men, and 90 percent (27 of 30) general manager jobs have gone to white men.

“Nearly 10 years since the release of the first occupational mobility report for the NFL, the myth of meritocracy continues to be exposed with the inequities of the hiring of head coaches and other leadership positions across NFL teams,” Harrison wrote. “Why still? This is the question we must ask after progress seems to get better for a stint of time; nevertheless, this progress is followed by opportunities for men of color worsening at the blink of an eye from one football season to the next.”

There remains a stunning refusal within football organizations to hire non-white candidates for leading positions. It’s a problem that has existed since football’s inception. Rewriting league laws to ensure inclusivity isn’t enough—it is the steady, consistent attitude that Black is bad for business that must be defeated.

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, knows last season’s coaching hiring cycle was a failure. “No one associated with the National Football League should feel good,” he told me. “No one.” He’s made upward mobility and inclusion efforts a core part of his job. When we spoke in May, he told me that the only topic he’s held more meetings about this year than equitable hiring is the NFL’s coronavirus response.

Vincent has an awkward role in the league—some people I’ve spoken to describe it as “thankless.” He acts as a league-sanctioned peacemaker, working with advocacy groups and coaches, and also as an NFL spokesman. He said the recent hiring data gave him a “sick, disgusting feeling.” He asked himself a difficult question: “What do you want to do about it?”

Vincent conducted an internal audit after this year’s Super Bowl to review the hiring practices of every team that had a head coaching or front office vacancy during the last hiring cycle, including how candidates were identified, who was invited for interviews, and whether final decisions were made in accordance with the league’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. “We were falling short in an awful lot of areas,” Vincent said. He presented his findings to Roger Goodell and Art Rooney II, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the league’s workplace diversity committee.

Vincent said he asked them a simple question: “Is this important to you?” They said it was.

“At the end of the day, these are hard issues,” Vincent said. “Diversity is a fact. Inclusion is a choice.”

His mission was to get a predominantly white ownership group to embrace the necessary changes, but first he needed the league to admit that its efforts thus far—the seminars, summits, and fellowships designed for Black coaches to get ahead—had failed.

“Obviously,” Vincent says, “we put efforts toward it, but it didn’t work. We got to look at policies, we got to look at education. We got to look at our programs, we got to look at all our initiatives. We got to look at people. That is the result. When you’re failing in so many areas, you look at it and go, ‘We’ve got a lot of work to do. Where do we start?’”

Vincent convened a task force of nearly a dozen former coaches, advocates, broadcasters, and others to brainstorm and present ideas to make bold changes to the league’s hiring policies. Members of the group included Tony Dungy, a current NBC analyst who won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Colts; Doug Williams, an executive with the Washington Football Team and the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl; and Kenneth Shropshire, an Arizona State professor who’s consulted with the league on workplace racism. One member told me the task force wanted “to talk about ways we can influence change and improve the hiring and prospects of men and women of color in the NFL.”

That, at least, was the goal.

Frustration about the league’s hiring practices had been mounting. At the Senior Bowl, in Mobile, Alabama, in January, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an advocacy organization named after the NFL’s first Black head coach, hosted a town hall bringing together Black coaches, advocates, and league personnel. Two people who attended the town hall said it became contentious as participants demanded to know why the league wasn’t fulfilling its promise to do more to remedy the problem. A month later, at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, around 50 people gathered in a conference room at a JW Marriott for the league’s annual workplace diversity committee meeting. Among those in attendance were Vincent, Goodell, and several current and former NFL coaches, including Washington head coach Ron Rivera, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin.

The meeting turned into a frank conversation about racism in the NFL and the league’s flawed hiring practices. For nearly two hours, attendees detailed how Black coaches were being failed. Vincent said the meeting was “eye-opening” and “sobering.” One person, according to sources who attended the meeting, asked why Jim Caldwell, who was fired as head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2017, or Marvin Lewis, who was fired in 2018 after 16 seasons as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, were still without jobs while less talented, white play callers were being reshuffled around the league. Other attendees said the meeting was another example of the league merely paying lip service to the problem.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” said one coach who had been in the room. “I had a hard time making the decision to go to that. I’ve been to so many of these things and nothing changes.” Many in the room thought that even if they were given an audience with the most powerful people in pro football, the results would be the same. “Black coaches are afraid to say what’s on their mind because we think we are going to get blackballed,” the coach said.

At one point in the meeting, Hue Jackson, formerly the head coach of Cleveland Browns and Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders, gave a presentation. Jackson began by reciting the title of his address, “The Black Coach Carries the Weight of His Race and Not Just the Race to Win.” Upon hearing that, one person in the room told me, he felt like “we are going to ruffle some feathers, and if people are gonna get upset about the truth, who gives a fuck.”

According to multiple sources, Jackson talked about how Black coaches were considered lesser and not equal to their white counterparts. He challenged ownership to “do what was right,” not what has been “normalized” in the league. “Normal has been our default,” Jackson told the room. “And our objectives, implementations, and solutions need to change. This very much is Black and white.” At that point, one coach in the room said, “I could tell people were getting uncomfortable.” (Jackson declined to comment on what happened in the meeting but did tell me he was surprised at how many people were in attendance.)

Jackson also put forth a proposal. He suggested that the NFL create mandates for their hiring processes. For example, Jackson said that the league could create equitable tentpoles when jobs open: If four coaching jobs are available, two should go to non-white coaches, and then the league could collect data to evaluate the hires in subsequent years. The league has the resources to accomplish this. “That’s if we want to be intentional and do what’s right,” he said.

Sources say the room fell silent after Jackson’s suggestion. The impact was felt. There was a clear sense of how football’s hiring system affected generations of Black coaches and executives. “I don’t know if they’ve heard from this type of group in this way ever before,” another attendee said. “Guys were in there emotional.”

After the meeting, people shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Vincent said he and Goodell left the meeting understanding that “a true comprehensive plan must be put in place.” Others were less hopeful that any meaningful change would come of it.

As one coach who spoke at the meeting put it, “For once in my life, I gave up on the thought that diversity would change in the NFL. Black people will never have an equal chance here. If that’s what I was feeling, I can only imagine what everyone else was.”

On May 15, two months after the meeting at the combine, NFL.com reported on a league proposal to improve hiring conditions for non-white coaches. Included in the proposal was a hiring inducement: If a team were to bring on a non-white head coach, it could move up six spots in the third round of the draft. Teams hiring non-white general managers could move up 10 spots, and a team would lose those advantages if a coach or executive were fired after a single season. Teams would also get extra draft picks if their assistant coaches of color get hired by another team.

The news of the proposal, which came four days before owners would deliberate and possibly vote on it, shocked and angered many coaches I spoke with. What the league was offering, they said, was, at best, a misunderstanding of everything they had been preaching for years—and at worst, it was a betrayal.

“Now you’re forcing people to do something,” said Jon Embree, a tight ends coach for the San Francisco 49ers. He was baffled that the league would incentivize its ownership group like this, noting the need for Black coaches to be judged on their merits before anything else. That’s when Embree’s rage began to boil. “It makes you wonder, like, what do you have to do? What do you have to do to get your shot, one? And then, two, get a legitimate opportunity to see if you can or can’t do it? My mom used to tell me this all the time: ‘You have to be twice as good. And sometimes that’s not going to be good enough.’ And she’s right. That’s where it is for people of my era, my age.”

Embree wasn’t alone in his thinking, either.

“It’s kind of sad that you feel like you have to bribe people to do the right thing, or at least give people the opportunity to be put in those positions,” said Morris, the Falcons interim head coach. He said he felt like the proposal was a result of poor planning. “It’s a tough pill to swallow. I think some of those things, you wish those things didn’t have to be put in place.”

But the damage was done. Stakeholders from around the sport were miffed. “The NFL is like much of the rest of America,” Shropshire, the Arizona State academic who was part of the league’s task force, told me in May. “It remains one of the most difficult places for us to overcome. And we see it illustrated in so many different ways in our society.”

It felt to so many that a moment had been wasted. The NFL had an opportunity to put change in the hands of Black folks around the sport and form policy that could change the game forever. That was the hope, at least.

“In today’s society,” said Doug Williams, an executive for Washington’s football team, “you ask some white folks [what they think about] systemic racism, they going to say, ‘No, I don’t see it.’ There’s a reason why you don’t see it: because it ain’t happening to you.”

The main reason so many people were opposed to the proposal was the idea that teams had to be incentivized to make inclusive hiring decisions. Most people on the task force agreed that changing policies required changing behavior—namely, that of ownership—but awarding a prize for hiring a Black coach was a betrayal of the values so many were trying to instill into the process.

“We had members strongly against this from the beginning,” one person on the task force explained. “They were putting a price on Black talent.” There was a frustration that the league didn’t take their feedback into consideration. “We were told what their consideration was going to be, we were given that consideration, and then we responded with a proposal of our own,” the same person told me. Another person on the task force said he felt blindsided by the proposal. “We never heard back from them. Next thing we knew, they were presenting it at their main meeting.”

Vincent disputed this when we spoke again this month, saying the proposal was just that—a proposal—and it hadn’t been intended to diminish the efforts of anyone the league had been consulting with. Vincent said he had “no fear” that the league had rankled their Black coaches and personnel. “By no means was this trying to demean the Black coaches or general managers or personnel folks,” he said. “That wasn’t the intent.”

The resolution was tabled on May 19. Vincent said too many amendments were being added for it to be viable. “That means it’s dead on arrival, from my experience, and what it did was generate good conversation, needed conversation.” He expects the proposal to be reintroduced later this year or during “the next hiring season” after “more discussion” and a “revised format.”

Rod Graves, the president of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said that the league got it “half-right” with its initial proposal. No one wanted a nearly all-white ownership group to be rewarded for just making a “diversity hire.” The idea that the same white people who refused to hire Black coaches and personnel would now be given a prize for doing what should be simple felt like a slap in the face.

“We’ve done everything to beautify the roadway, yet we haven’t seen owners making decisions that yield diverse candidates,” he said shortly after the proposal was made public. “We need more. We need a lot more. Adjustments must be made.”

Incentivizing more inclusive hiring practices is not a new idea—advocates and coaches have suggested the tactic to compel the league to change its rigid power structure for years. It was at the forefront of the efforts to enact the landmark Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview coaches of color for open positions. The originators of the Rooney Rule had a different approach, however. Whereas the league’s most recent proposal would have rewarded owners for hiring non-white coaches and personnel, Cyrus Mehri—a workplace discrimination lawyer who, alongside Johnnie Cochran, worked to implement the Rooney Rule almost two decades ago—wanted to implement a “reward system” with mechanisms to ensure accountability. Mehri told me in August that early drafts of the Rooney Rule had a clause that would strip teams of a first-round draft pick if they opted out of hiring from an approved, diverse list of candidates; if teams made a committed effort to diversifying their coaching staffs, the league would reward them with picks. The initiative, drafted in September 2002, was called the “Fair Competition Resolution.”

The issues contained within the document mirror the same challenges faced by coaches today. Mehri and Cochran’s policy allowed for the commissioner to reward teams for diversifying their front offices with non-white candidates or women. Higher draft picks would be given to teams that are more inclusive in their hiring for the general manager position or those with influence over hiring coaches. Every year before the draft, the commissioner would publish a report explaining each decision. Mehri and Cochran’s proposal also would have required every team to choose from a “racially diverse final candidate slate” for any head coach, assistant head coach, or coordinator-level position. Each person on the list would be granted an interview and each owner would have to certify their decision to the commissioner.

Teams were allowed to opt out of these requirements for any hiring decision; they just had to forfeit a draft pick to do so. And if it were for a head coach opening, the team would relinquish a first-rounder and each owner would need to put in writing why they were doing so.

“They were so apoplectically against that,” Mehri said of the NFL at the time. “I never, in a million years, thought draft choices would come back into the dialogue.” Mehri is stunned at how the league continues to misunderstand how to incentivize new behavior. “What motivates people in big companies and in Wall Street?” Mehri asked. “Money, cash, stocks, whatever. What motivates people in the NFL? It’s draft choices.”

What the NFL never addressed, in the months of hand-wringing over what to do next, and after poring over evidence showing the league had a massive issue with institutional racism, is the people most responsible. The owners had never genuinely been taken to task for their hiring decisions. The question is not about how to remedy an institution of the racism prevalent in its environment but how to force those in power to acknowledge or identify the sin they insist isn’t real. This is precisely why the problem was never the policies—it was always the people.

Changing hiring processes in any industry is difficult because of the human element. Subjectivity invites biases into any selection process. If diversity really is good for business, as the NFL persistently claims, and if we are to pretend that professional football represents America’s meritocratic ideals, then representation at the highest levels of the game should be repeatedly challenged on those claims.

“Somehow they’ve got to convince everybody—and by everybody, I mean ownership and the decision-makers—that this is actually good for them and good for the league. If they don’t believe that, then nothing is really going to come of it,” Tony Dungy told me this summer. “They can’t visualize a minority coach being the best option. And that, somehow, that’s what’s got to change.”

There are still those within the NFL who need convincing. In June, Denver head coach Vic Fangio disagreed with the notion that inequity even exists in the league. “I don’t see racism at all in the NFL, I don’t see discrimination in the NFL,” Fangio told reporters. He later added, “If society reflected an NFL team, we’d all be great.”

The author James Baldwin once said, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you do not see.” That is what so many Black people in the game have been trying to do for so many years. If you do not recognize a problem exists, or if you are unwilling to see it, you are incapable of addressing it. Meanwhile, the evidence is undeniable: The careers of Black people are being forsaken—redemption is as far away as the goal posts that keep moving.

“That’s what is destroying us today and has us in such a turmoil,” said John Wooten, a Black trailblazer in the sport who helped craft the Rooney Rule. “It is with dishonest people at the top. They want to say they want openness and fairness and so forth, yet they want to go out in the hall and interview two people of color that they have on their staff that they know they have no intention of hiring as general managers or head coaches. That’s the fallacy of this whole thing. And if you don’t respond with your fist balled up and ready to fight that kind of thing, then go home and get out of the way.”

Yet the issue is that the NFL is a reflection of American society and its institutions. They can be gateways to a better life, but racism runs rampant within them. The NFL is like the United States because both have shown an appreciation for the same sickness. And the disease will be the true barrier unless something radically shifts. It is curable if you’re not negligent, yet it is that same carelessness, that apathy, that nonchalance toward doing what is right that will keep the game forever wicked. It’s no longer proposals that’ll fix what’s wrong on the sidelines and C-suites. It is the nearly all-white, almighty proprietors keeping sole possession of power within pro football. Until they’re usurped, their minds changed about what leaders look like or their power stripped, the game will remain broken for generations to come.

The reality for the Black coach heading into the new decade remains the same as any year, at any level of football, but particularly at the top. Hope remains the drug of choice for every aspiring coach I’ve spoken to this year, but hope alone will not beat down the doors of power in their profession and compel the gatekeepers to do what is necessary to make the game more inclusive.

In 2001, Alonzo Carter was trying to make inroads into the profession. San Jose State coach Omon Fitzgerald Hill invited the aspiring coach to observe his program. Carter said he slept on the floor of Hill’s office so he could watch tape of Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf late into the night. It became Carter’s routine. For years, he slept on floors at coaching conventions, spent money out of his own pocket flying to interviews he never got hired for, hoofed it to clinics to network for opportunities that never materialized, shared two-bed hotel rooms with half a dozen coaches for a single chance. All of it to prove he belongs in this sacred clubhouse of coaches.

“And now here I am,” he said from his office at San Jose State this summer. “The same floor that I slept on watching film … that very office is my office now.” Given his experiences, how does Carter view his responsibility to coaches like him, who struggled as he did? Why go through all of that just to coach? Carter echoed a proverb from the author Toni Morrison. “When you’re moving upward, it’s your duty and your responsibility to try to bring somebody with you.”

The plight of the Black coach remains arduous, but Carter clings to his hope. That dream was found on Zoom calls with some of the best and brightest minds in the sport. Carter’s vision is a joyous sight to behold.

This is the magic often hidden behind the scenes of the coaching world. So often it’s white faces doing the teaching, presenting a homogenous version of what the profession is supposed to look like at the highest levels. During Carter’s Zoom therapy, there’s an ease in folks’ voices. No code switching. No fear. Bass in their twangs. They were the normal, not the minority.

“You really just find your hope through stories like that,” Carter told me one afternoon. “You find your hope through the journeys that some of these men have taken, to sit in those seats. … It just brings a spark and it’s so fulfilling.” He’s still preaching to me from the ambition in his heart. “You feel like if you take a piece of just each conversation that you get—good or bad—that you can find your way and navigate your way to also be in that seat.”

He sees a generation of Black people who are ready for the interviews, prepared to prove their pedigree as leaders, strategists, presidents of programs. And for just one second, even his thunderous sermon falls apart.

“I think we get angry,” he said. “We’re voicing it. We say we don’t have plans. It’s OK to be hurt, but we want to have a plan.” He tries to tell himself and his fellow coaches, “Don’t get frustrated and get told what you’re not, because we all get told sometimes what’s impossible or what we can’t do.” I asked him whether all of this ever gets too heavy: the demands and duality of being Black and a coach, the understanding going into every interview that he’s battling for recognition in a sport that’s never seen Black people as thinkers, just crash dummies; the idea that so many folks who look like us will never make it to the top.

And at that moment, Carter’s voice perked up. The coaching hat came back on. And the play-caller went back to a motivational speaking savant.

“Let me make this very clear, too,” Carter said. “We don’t want the job just because we’re Black. We want the job because we are the best qualified. I think that’s the part where the frustration kicks in.” The Sisyphean task of preparing for a job opportunity that never comes is exhausting. Carter admitted it makes him angry at times, but stressed his willingness to remain resilient. To continue, as he said, to “fight through the fight.”

“Because you might only get one shot at it,” he said. “So you get that one shot, you better be ready.”

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