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Syracuse Football: Dino Babers Represents a Barrier Broken Way Too Late

Dino Babers is the first African-American head football coach in the history of Syracuse University. Is that something to celebrate, something to make us wonder why it took so long or both?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The first job I worked out of Syracuse was for an online startup called DreamLife.

This was 2000 and the dot com bubble was a couple months away from bursting. Before it did, the job was everything I was hoping for out of school.

An office on a converted warehouse floor above Chelsea Market in Manhattan. A startup atmosphere where suits and ties were basically banned. Great co-workers and a camaraderie that extended outside of the cubicle walls. Office-wide MMORPG battles after work at least once a week.

Six months after I started, when the CEO huddled us together to tell us that we were running out of money and that "if you get another job offer, take it," it was a real disappointment and welcoming to the world.

I have a lot of great memories about that job. I also have a very distinct memory that's not only stuck with me during the years but also served as a jumping-off point for a realization I'd have throughout my career.

Of the 80+ employees at DreamLife, only one was African-American. He wasn't the CEO or an executive or even a marketing coordinator. He was the office manager (a.k.a. The Guy Who Kept The Supply Closet Stocked).

My second job was a small startup that had about fifteen employees at it's height. No African-American employees.

I moved to Los Angeles and got the best office job I've ever had as a PR coordinator for Lionsgate Entertainment. At the time Lionsgate was considered an indie studio and was still small comparatively-speaking. Still, there were probably 150 employees at that point. I've racked my brain and best I can tell I remember three African-American employees when I worked there. None of them were executives.

From there I worked for another movie studio (zero), an online media agency (maybe one?), an online content company (can't remember any), another online content company (none I ever met) and a few other jobs tucked in there until I started writing full-time. I've worked for startups and corporations and everything in between. I've worked for dot coms, entertainment companies, media companies and agencies.

And no matter how many people worked in the companies, I could always count the number of African-American employees on one hand.

That's fucking crazy.


Dino Babers is the first African-American head football coach in the history of Syracuse University.

There. It's been said. We're all aware now.

I admit, as the epitome of societal privilege (30-something, college-educated, suburban white male), I don't have too much ground to stand on here, but I think there's two ways to discuss this fact.

1. Considering 53 percent of FBS players are African-American (per ESPN in 2014) and have made up a sizable percentage for decades, this is woefully late.

2. Considering there are now only nine African-American head coaches in the FBS (three were fired this offseason and a few more were pretty close to being fired as well), it's ahead of the curve.

I don't know which one depresses me more.

I want to say I'm proud of Syracuse for being one of the few schools in the FBS to have an African-American coach but to do so also strangely validates the notion that having an African-American coach is something rare to be celebrated.

I don't want to go too far down a rabbit hole here (though by even broaching the subject I realize that I am). But how can we not talk about what is an obvious issue given what's going on. It's one thing for my office to have a handful of African-Americans in it when they make up 12 percent of the population, it's another altogether to have a profession with so few representatives when they make up more than half of the participants.

It's especially staggering considering we're an FBS Northeastern school where, perhaps for stereotypical reasons, you'd think the odds would lean in the direction of this being normal. But just look around. Boston College? Nope. Rutgers? Nope. UConn? Nope. Pitt? If you don't count Michael Haywood, nope. Penn State hired James Franklin last year to finally break ground. (Though it wouldn't be fair to talk about Northeastern football and not give due to Temple and Ron Dickerson).

Furthermore, Babers is walking into a dubious situation at Syracuse where he has to improve things in a hurry or face the same fate his predacessor received after three seasons. The only difference is that, statistically-speaking, it's much more likely that Scott Shafer will one day be a head coach again while it's more than likely if Dino doesn't get it done at SU, he will never get the chance again.

I don't know Dino Babers. I don't know if he keeps all of this in mind or if he simply thinks in terms of what he himself can do. Does all of this weigh on him? Does the pressure of being one of the few African-American head coaches affect him or at least linger in the back of his mind? Does he wonder if, like Ruffin McNeill, all his successes will be thrown out the first time he fails?

I don't know but I wouldn't blame him if he did.


Whenever someone challenges the notion that we shouldn't even consider this an issue and that every business should just hire who they want without regard for race, or that this problem is merely just a "coincidence" of sorts, I like to propose an idea...

If we admit that it's just random chance that less than ten of the 128 FBS head coaches are African-American or that there are only three African-Americans in an office of a hundred people, then we have to assume that white people are, by their genetics, simply smarter and more capable than African-Americans.

But if you don't believe that to be true (because it's not), then you have to admit there's a massive, long-term problem here. Syracuse University's hiring of Dino Babers is a good step but it's merely one step. As Diverse points out, FBS schools would do well to consider things like Rooney Rules (effective or not, at least it gets people in the conversation) as well as coaching mentorship programs for African-American players who want to make the transition.

Is there ever a moment where we solve the problem? Perhaps not. But maybe we'll solve it when we stop thinking about it. Maybe the next time Syracuse hires an African-American coach, it won't warrant a column like this. We can hope.