Two days before Super Bowl XLI in 2007, the game's two opposing head coaches posed with the trophy one of them would hoist after the contest. It was a fairly unremarkable event, except that both coaches were African American-a fact that was as much of a story as the game itself. As Jeremi Duru reveals in Advancing the Ball, this unique milestone resulted from the work of a determined group of people whose struggles to expand head coaching opportunities for African Americans ultimately changed the National Football League. Since the league's desegregation in 1946, opportunities had grown plentiful for African Americans as players but not as head coaches-the byproduct of the NFL's old-boy network and lingering stereotypes of blacks' intellectual inferiority. Although Major League Baseball and the NBA had, over the years, made progress in this regard, the NFL's head coaches were almost exclusively white up until the mid-1990s.
Advancing the Ball chronicles the campaign of former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman John Wooten to right this wrong and undo decades of discriminatory head coach hiring practices-an initiative that finally bore fruit when he joined forces with attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran. Together with a few allies, the triumvirate galvanized the NFL's African American assistant coaches to stand together for equal opportunity and convinced the league to enact the "Rooney Rule," which stipulates that every team must interview at least one minority candidate when searching for a new head coach. In doing so, they spurred a movement that would substantially impact the NFL and, potentially, the nation. Featuring an impassioned foreword by Coach Tony Dungy, Advancing the Ball offers an eye-opening, first-hand look at how a few committed individuals initiated a sea change in America's most popular sport and added an extraordinary new chapter to the civil rights story.