When it comes to football, I'm a hypocrite. I have a love-hate relationship with the game.
I love the competition and strategy of the game but often hate the politics -- on and off the field.
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But wow, do I love the beauty of a quarterback's tight spiral pass plucked out of the air by a Jerry Rice-like receiver; the power of a Jerome Bettis-like running back pushing through the end zone, the gnarly scrimmages across the offensive and defensive lines. But then, it depresses me that players risk their lives and their bodies for a game that has failed to put their safety first.
In football, the most magical part of the game doesn't even happen on the field. Not for me. I love the way football -- pre-President Trump -- has always made fast friends of strangers from all walks of life, women and men, who would otherwise never speak a word to each other.
Take Condoleezza Rice, for example.
It's no secret that the former secretary of state also loves football. Recently, Rice was rumored to be under consideration for the Cleveland Browns head coaching position when ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, somewhat facetiously, that Rice's name was on the Browns' wish list.
"She [Rice] could be come the first woman ever to interview for a head coaching position ... everyone knows she would be an extremely long shot to get the job."
Rice's name has been tossed around by sports insiders for years. We know she's a lifelong Browns fan. Back in 2002, President George W. Bush said she wanted to be NFL commissioner after then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped down. In hindsight, I always thought Rice would have been a smarter choice than Roger Goodell, who became commissioner in 2006. In 2013, Rice was the only woman selected as one of 13 members of the first College Football Playoff selection committee.
Initially, I loved the idea of Rice getting into the game as a coach. A huge win for women, who no question have the intellect and mentality to lead a team. It's the opportunities that have been lacking.
The NFL saw its first female coach in 2015: Jennifer Welter with the Arizona Cardinals. She started as summer intern and was hired part-time as assistant coach. Then came Kathryn Smith, hired in 2016 by the Buffalo Bills. Smith was the league's first female full-time coach, working on game plans and playbooks. She lasted a year. This season, there is Katie Sowers, hired full time by the San Francisco 49ers. The college game hasn't fared much better; Callie Brownson, the first female Division I college assistant coach, was hired at Dartmouth in 2018.
There has never been a woman as a head coach in any male professional sport. But now that women are making small inroads into the NFL coaching pipeline, it remains to be seen if they will get the support every coach must have to make it to the top job, or, be sidelined.
Rice herself isn't taking the coaching rumors seriously. But she's serious about women coaching.
"I love my Browns -- and I know they will hire an experienced coach to take us to the next level. On a more serious note, I do hope that the NFL will start to bring women into the coaching profession as position coaches and eventually coordinators and head coaches... But experience counts -- and it is time to develop a pool of experienced women coaches," Rice posted on her Facebook page.
Kudos to Rice for turning an idea many took as joke into a frank discussion about women's equality. And for keeping her sense of humor.
Truthfully, I was insulted by all the Coach Condi talk. The job would be a huge step down for a woman like Rice. The Browns are perennial losers and one of the worst NFL teams. Come on, man!
Here's a woman who sat on the National Security Council as director of Soviet and East European Affairs -- in the Cold War '80s. She was George W. Bush's national security adviser, then his secretary of state for four years. She's brokered Middle East peace deals and ceasefires, stared down drug lords and terrorists, expanded democracy around the globe.
It's ridiculous, and the epitome of chauvinism, to question whether a women of her caliber could handle leading a team of 53 men in tights to win football games.
Let's not sell ourselves short in our eagerness for women's equality. Why take baby steps in situations when we've proven we can lead, compete and win on elite levels?
Next time we talk professional sports jobs for Condi, or any successful, powerful woman, let's start with Commissioner, General Manager, Team Owner, President.
There are plenty of smart, talented women waiting to fill those coaching and front-office spots. We need only one thing, as my former ESPN colleague and favorite NFLer Keyshawn Johnson famously said:
"Just give me the damn ball."
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