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[SPORTS] Norm Chao - Beyond Black and White

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  • madchinaman
    BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE: Norm Chow and the Case for Minority Hiring by David Leonard http://www.popmatters.com/sports/features/050303-normchow.shtml Leading up
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 7, 2005
      Norm Chow and the Case for Minority Hiring
      by David Leonard

      Leading up to this year's collegiate championship game in the Orange
      Bowl, virtually every report on the USC football team made mention
      of Norm Chow, the team's offensive coordinator. Described as
      a "genius," the "architect" of their success, and a "brilliant"
      football mind, the media offered a litany of accolades in praise of
      Chow. Yet amid this praise, Chow once again faced an all-too-
      familiar situation -- his talents and résumé failed to translate
      into a head coaching position.

      Chow's record speaks for itself. He's been coaching for more than
      three decades at both the collegiate and professional level. From
      1973 through 1999, he was an assistant coach at Brigham Young
      University, developing several young quarterbacks -- such as future
      professionals Jim McMahon, Steve Young, and Ty Detmer -- and
      coordinating one of the most effective offenses in college sports.

      Upon leaving BYU, Chow spent a short time at North Carolina State,
      tutoring the eventual first round draft pick Phillip Rivers, before
      finding a home at USC. As the team's offensive coordinator, Chow has
      resuurected a once-proud program, contributing to two national
      championships and two Heisman trophies within the last four years.
      While fans and commentators continue to praise head coach Pete
      Carroll for USC's dominance, an equal level of adoration has been
      afforded to Chow.

      Still, this "master," "creative mind," and "legend" has yet to be
      described by the words "head coach." And this is not by his
      choosing. Dismissing claims that he is content as an assistant
      coach, Chow has consistently made his aspirations clear: "Sure, why
      not. I haven't had a chance. I haven't been bombarded. It's not like
      people are knocking at the door. I've turned one job down." And
      though unwilling to openly cite the racism that has transformed the
      collegiate coaching ranks into a world of Jim Crow, Chow is clearly
      aware of the racial implications of his position: "There's not an
      Asian head coach in college football. I don't want to think too much
      about it, but it's there."

      His own experiences speak to the presence of racism within the
      college coaching ranks, which contributed, in part, to his departure
      from BYU. During a meeting between members of the athletic
      department and administrators, Chow witnessed firsthand the racism
      of those in power: "I'm sitting here, this guy's [a new white vice
      president at the university] standing three feet away from me
      talking about this, that, and the other. And he says, 'we're going
      to build this new facility and we got all the Chinamen lined up,
      ready to go.'" Rightly infuriated, Chow confronted his athletic
      director, who, in turn, took Chow's complaint to the vice president.
      The VP defended his own actions by telling the athletic director, "I
      didn't know Norm was Chinese." Chow left BYU soon after, forced to
      start over after thirty-two years at the school.

      Along with his age and lack of head coaching experience, this
      anecdote has been offered up as an explanation for why Chow is not a
      head coach today. This reasoning, however, fails to properly address
      the complexity of the racist realities of collegiate coaching.
      Focusing on the specific racism of an unidentified bigot, the
      coverage concerning the lack of opportunities afforded to Chow has
      failed to address institutional racism and the meaning of Asianness
      within contemporary (sporting) culture.

      The lack of opportunities afforded to Chow and others is not
      exclusively the result of the actions of a few racist
      administrators -- it's not that simple. Such denial is instead
      systemic, the result of longstanding and pernicious racial
      discourses and ideologies. The fact that Chow recently accepted a
      professional offensive coordinator position with the Tennessee
      Titans only underscores the loan of his genius and technical
      wizardry in support of white, athletic, "leaders" of men (in this
      case, head coach Jeff Fisher). The lack of head coaching
      opportunities for Chow reflects the ongoing construction of Asian
      American men, who are framed not in terms of athleticism, strength,
      or leadership, but as cerebral and creative. Chow can ostensibly
      craft an offensive strategy, but can't lead an athletic team defined
      by its manhood and power.

      The absence of Asian American coaches (and players) embodies the
      long-standing feminization of all things "Asian," which, in turn,
      reserves desired athletic and leadership qualities for white
      coaches. Edward Said explains the Western conception of Asians as
      physically inferior in his landmark book Orientalism: "There are
      Westerners, and there are Orientals. The former dominate; and the
      latter must be dominated." This racialized definition of Asian men
      as weak exists as a guiding obstacle to Asian advancement in the
      collegiate ranks.

      Similarly, white supremacist discourses that position black men as
      purely physical, without the mental capabilities of their white
      counterparts, contribute to a scarcity of black coaches. The
      exclusion of Chow and so many black coaches is the effect of the
      same racist system and hegemony of ideologies. The failure to
      investigate the links between Chow and, for example, Tyrone
      Willingham (the recently fired black head coach at Notre Dame),
      limits the discussion to individual prejudice and to a black/white
      binary. Ultimately, this is also the failure to unsettle the
      dominant discourse.

      Now let us be clear: this is not to deny conversations that have
      taken place regarding the persistent levels of racism within college
      sports and the lack of opportunities available for minority coaches.
      But after last year's firing of Willingham, Fritz Hill (San Jose
      State), and Tony Samuel (New Mexico), college football was left with
      just two black coaches (of 117 positions) -- UCLA's Karl Dorrell and
      Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom. "The numbers speak," notes
      Floyd Keith, the executive director of the Black Coaches Association
      (BCA). "Statistics are telling me that things are not fair. And
      anybody that thinks that they're fair is way, way off."

      Despite Keith's comments, the firing of three-fifths of Division I
      black football coaches this year only prompted an ineffective,
      toothless debate regarding the state of minority hiring in college
      football. Although there is an appearance of public concern about
      black football coaches, it only seems loud compared to the
      whispering about Norm Chow. Moreover, the emerging discourse has
      muted discussions of institutional racism. Such debates focus more
      on an inequality of numbers than the ingrained nature of racism as
      the root cause.

      For the sake of all minorities in collegiate athletics, though, it
      is important to avoid superficial discussions that privilege one
      debate or situation over the other, and to begin to develop theories
      and paradigmatic frameworks that reflect on the complexity of racial
      meaning. Importantly, we must use the history of Chow and the
      ongoing racial obstacles facing minority coaches as the impetus for
      coalitions. Supporters of Norm Chow, whether commentators from Asian
      Week or the numerous outraged chatroom dwellers, must be equally
      vocal in demanding access for black coaches, just as the NAACP and
      Jesse Jackson must come to the aid of Norm Chow.

      In a recent column for ESPN.com, in response to Notre Dame's firing
      of Willingham, Richard Lapchick lamented the absence of
      opportunities for today's African American football coaching
      fraternity. "The women's movement in sport gained its most vigorous
      momentum, not after the passage of Title IX in 1972 but only when
      women took colleges and universities to court for lack of
      implementation," argued Lapchick. "Something dramatic needs to
      happen if this incredible slap in the face of African-American
      coaches and student-athletes can be rectified." Elsewhere, Floyd
      Keith has asserted, "This is not going to go away, we are asking for
      the fair treatment of coaches that are capable. When you look at the
      African-Americans in football at all levels, it's pathetic." Yet in
      neither instance does the debate or discourse go far enough. Such
      comments, though well intended, limit the discussion to experiences
      of racism within a black/white binary.

      The logic of white supremacy that limits coaching opportunities
      within collegiate football, however, is the same logic that impairs
      equity and justice for all minorities throughout the United States.
      This is not to say that identical histories and realities define
      African Americans and Asian Americans, but rather that we must avoid
      discourses of exceptionalism. Future fights must go beyond these
      reductions and give voice to the ways in which white supremacy
      impairs and affects opportunities for all people of color. Sports --
      in this case football -- offers us a powerful opportunity to engage
      in such a fight.
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