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SUPER BOWL XXVII : Jesse Jackson Finds Support at Party : Minority hiring: Magic, Ditka, Sayers are among those at pregame event who want the NFL to open the front-office system.

February 01, 1993|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The security guard did a double take as Jesse Jackson's car slowed to enter the Rose Bowl parking lot Sunday morning.

"That's a living legend!" the yellow-clad security guard shouted. "Oh, Jesse!"

Jackson gave him a thumbs-up sign.

Jackson made his way to the NFL's Super Bowl tailgate party, where the Santa Monica pier, complete with a merry-go-round, was recreated on an athletic field outside the Rose Bowl. It was there for the benefit of several thousand NFL VIPs and sponsors, and Jackson couldn't walk 10 steps without someone asking him to sign an autograph or pose for a picture.

"Hey, Jesse, will you be the next baseball commissioner?" a fan asked Jackson, who has threatened baseball with a boycott next season unless the sport institutes a minority hiring program.

Former Laker star Magic Johnson, actors Bill Murray and Corbin Bernsen, Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers, former Chicago Bear Coach Mike Ditka and sportscaster Bob Costas huddled with Jackson at the party.

Jackson, founder of the Rainbow Commission for Fairness in Athletics, attended the Super Bowl to lobby the NFL to institute a minority hiring program.

"Why is the game in Pasadena?" Jackson asked. "They came here because of the moral outrage (over Arizona's refusal to institute a holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King). "It's ironic that the Super Bowl would come to the hometown of Jackie Robinson."

But more than 40 years after Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball, minorities are still trying to open the doors to the front office of pro sports such as the NFL.

Although 75% of the Cowboys and 56% of the Bills players are minorities, minorities aren't well represented in the front office of the Super Bowl XXVII contestants. The Bills have only three minorities among their front-office staff of 76 and the Cowboys employ 10 minorities among their staff of 69.

According to a survey of the NFL by Jackson's group, 60% of NFL players are black, but only 7% of the front-office staff is black. There are only three minority coaches (two African-Americans and one Latino) among the 28 NFL head coaches.

"Football makes baseball and basketball look like the home office of the NAACP," Costas told Jackson. "Those guys are the worst. When I say that, I'm talking about the record of (hiring) coaches.

"In the entire modern history of pro football going back to World War II, the AFL and NFL have had two African-American and one Hispanic (head) coaches.

"Reverend Jackson has the clout to raise the issue and keep hammering at it and keep it in front of people. The key now is to get it to some sort of productive plan, rather than simply stating good intentions."

Jackson has a plan.

"Each team must put into place an affirmative action plan with goals, targets and timetables," Jackson said. "The fact is, there are no positions where there are not already qualified (minorities). The ultimate tragedy is it's to the owners' benefit to open up and have a free market off the field like there is on the field.

"We are as capable of scoring in the front office as we are of scoring on the field."

Ditka, who met with Jackson, agreed.

"I think in time that (increased minority front-office hiring) is going to happen," Ditka said. "But if someone doesn't make it happen, it's not going to happen."

Johnson, who is trying to buy a basketball team, says a minority hiring program is long overdue.

"We need it," Johnson said. "We have been overlooked. We can't get a job after we're done playing. What he's talking about has been needed for a long time. We don't have a president of a team and we're just now getting coaches."

Sayers, who owns a computer firm in Chicago, also supports Jackson's program. Seeking a job with an NFL team after he retired from the NFL, Sayers wrote to every NFL team.

"After I retired in 1973 I went back to Kansas and got my masters degree in administration and after about 10 years in athletic administration I wrote to all 28 NFL teams and didn't get a bite," Sayers said. "I was prepared to go back in and didn't get in. They could have found a position for Gale Sayers, because I was also a star in the NFL. But it didn't happen.

"Reverend Jackson has been on the side of the disenfranchised for many years, and now he's putting emphasis on where it should have been put 15 years ago--and I'm going to help him do it."

Harold Henderson, NFL executive vice president for labor relations and the league's highest-ranking African-American executive, promised to set up a meeting for Jackson with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has increased minority hiring in the league office.

"It's a closed system, no doubt about it," Henderson said. "But there are some things that can be done."

Jackson, who maintains a grueling schedule, is working overtime to open the system.

After watching the Super Bowl from a 50-yard line seat, Jackson visited the Cowboy locker room. Then he hurried off to Hollywood to tape a TV show with ESPN's Roy Firestone on Sunday night.

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