Martin Luther King Jr.: “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The NY Jets made history by hiring Robert Saleh, the first Muslim head coach in NFL history. There are several things to note about this man. Saleh, the son of a construction worker, is highly respected, experienced and believed to be a man of great intellect. He was one of the most sought-after head coaching candidates in the NFL. Now let me add one detail which means zero, zip, and nada to me, but is integral to the point of this post: not only is Saleh Muslim but he is dark-skinned. My reaction to the Saleh hiring was and is positive because of his resume and character. Jet fans on social media were giddy and have enthusiastically embraced Saleh.
What escaped notice was the complete absence of racial or bigoted comments about Saleh in social media. Apparently, no one cares about the tint of the man’s skin or his faith. No one, that is, but Nate Burleson, host of NFL Network’s morning show, Good Morning Football. He said, “It’s great that he is a minority. His ethnicity can match the diversity of NY and NJ.” Burleson then swallowed even more of his own foot by saying, “When guys look in the mirror. When women look in the mirror that represents this NJ NY area it is a little bit different than your traditional white guy.” This, while we were all too busy celebrating to notice or care about Saleh’s race, ethnicity or religion.
Jackie Robinson and the other pioneering black men who broke the color barrier in major league baseball had to endure insults, slurs and death threats. With Saleh, not a peep. In fact it was all very ho-hum, business as usual. This is real progress and shows us this is not a racist country. Burleson could have given us a pat on the back instead of a kick in the ass. Channeling Dr. King, my mother used to say, don’t judge a book by its cover. Words to live by, Nate – are you listening?
Michael A. Morrongiello, Ph.D.